Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi at the Samoa citizenship bill public consultation on Monday. 1 July 2024 Photo: RNZ Pacific / Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

Samoa’s former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi says it is easier for his people to get to hell than to come to New Zealand.

Tuilaepa, who now sits in the opposition as leader, is in Auckland with his Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) this week.

He made the comment at a public hearing that commenced in South Auckland for the ‘Restoring Citizenship Removed By Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act Bill.

This pivotal piece of legislation aims to restore a pathway to New Zealand citizenship – for a group of people born in then-Western Samoa between 1924 and 1949 – whose citizenship was revoked by the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act of 1982.

“I read the agreement between the New Zealand government and the Chinese government about a visa-free scheme where they have a population of 1.4 billion people coming to visit New Zealand.

“1.4 billion [Chinese] that could come [to NZ] and yet for us in Samoa that is extremely difficult. To go to hell [is easier] than to come to New Zealand,” the former prime minister said.

Part of his submission focused on the education of young Samoans and the importance of the Treaty of Friendship with Aotearoa.

“Pure racism. I have raised the subject in several of our meetings in the past to see whether there was any positivity in making the protocol. Unfortunately, it got worse and worse,” Tuilaepa said during his submission.

“I have come to believe that all those people that were sent to Samoa to occupy your immigration section, I think they were all trained to hate.”
This issue has deep historical roots, dating back to a 1982 Privy Council ruling that recognised individuals born in Western Samoa after 13 May 1924, as 2natural-born British subjects” under New Zealand law.

This ruling effectively granted them New Zealand citizenship when the country established its own citizenship in 1948. However, to avoid a large influx of Western Samoans claiming citizenship, the New Zealand government enacted the 1982 Act, which revoked their citizenship.

The bill has generated significant public interest. Approximately 24,500 submissions were received before the submission period closed on 31 May.

Present at the hearing on Monday also was Fale Andrew Lesa, a descendant of Falemaʻi Lesa, a Samoan citizen resident in New Zealand who famously and successfully stopped her deportation by arguing she was also a New Zealand citizen to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, then the highest court of appeal in the country.

Fale said it was humbling to be surrounded by so many people who supported the bill and were the only descendants of Falema’i Lesa present at the hearing.

He said the key points from their submission are about fairness; there are thousands of Falema’i Lesas out there who have their own causes, and they expect them to defend them.

“In this case, the law failed Falema’i Lesa; we hope the law doesn’t fail others out there who fight similar battles.”

Governance and Administration Committee chairperson Rachel Boyack expressed her appreciation for the public’s engagement.

“We thank the many individuals, organisations, and communities who have taken the time to write to us on the bill and look forward to hearing their views over the course of our hearings,” she said.

The public hearing started at 9am and finished at 5pm with many other hearing submissions.