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Government of Western Samoa Report of the Commission to Inquire into and Report upon the Organization of District and Village Government in Western Samoa

Appendix E—Speech by the Chairman of the Commission in the Legislative Assembly on 26th October, 1950

Appendix E—Speech by the Chairman of the Commission in the Legislative Assembly on 26th October, 1950

The following speech was delivered by the Chairman of the Commission in his capacity of Trusteeship Officer to the Government of Western Samoa and an ex offico member of the Legislative Assembly. It was made as mover of the motion referred to on page 6 of this report. It is included here as an Appendix because it summarizes the general political background to the Report:—

The Hon. Trusteeship Officer: Sir, I beg to move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper to which you have already referred. The motion reads: “That this Assembly expresses its thanks to His Excellency the High Commissioner for releasing the ‘First Report of the Commission to Inquire into and Report upon the Organization of District and Village Government in Western Samoa’ and welcomes the opportunity to discuss the recommendations contained in it.”

Before beginning to discuss the subject matter of the motion, I should like to say that the words of the motion are not merely formal ones intended to provide an opportunity for discussion, but that they mean, to my seconder and myself, precisely what they say. I would like particularly to emphasize the latter part of the motion, “That this Assembly … welcomes the opportunity to discuss the recommendations contained in” (the report). When the Commission decided to submit this first report to Your Excellency, it recognized that it would not be reasonable to expect a definitive statement of Government policy upon this subject at short notice. In fact, in the covering letter which I wrote when submitting the report to you, I pointed out that the Commission considered that, as you have stated that it is your intention to provide for the maximum amount of discussion of any proposals put forward by the Commission before Government policy is decided, at this stage it would, indeed, be undesirable for a definite statement of Government policy to be made.

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From what I have said, members will fully realize that I speak to-day as a member of this Assembly who happens to be Chairman of this Commission and that what I say represents in a general way the views of the Commission but does not necessarily represent the views of the Government. With those words of introduction, I should now like to say something in explanation of the report which is before the Assembly.

None of us doubt that it is the fundamental political desire of all peoples to control their own affairs. In a country such as Western Samoa, the main objective of political activity must necessarily be the attainment of self-government. It would be an insult to the elected members of this Assembly for me to offer any explanation of that statement. The reasons for it are known to them all from their whole experience of life. In former times the people of Samoa did completely control the affairs of their own country. But times changed and, for a variety of reasons, the traditional Samoan political institutions were unable to cope with the new stresses and strains that the times placed upon them. Eventually Samoa lost its independence and became a German colony. In recent times we have seen the beginning of a process by which the people of this country are beginning again to take a larger part in the control of their own Government. (And I would like to remark, in passing, that when I refer to the people of Samoa I refer to all those who regard Samoa as their permanent home, whatever their status may be.)

We have now witnessed, as I have said, the beginning of the process of formation of a new Samoan self-government, and it becomes our task to consider what steps are necessary to bring that process, in due course, to completion. I would suggest that there are three things which we will have to achieve. First of all, we must continue to develop a strong and stable Central Government, firmly based on the traditions of Samoa but changed and expanded so as to deal with the new ideas and the new needs of the people. Secondly, we must develop a system for the control of district and village affairs, based upon the traditional authority of the ali‘i and faipule but modified so as to satisfy increasing needs. And, thirdly, we must create proper links between these two—between the Central Government and the traditional authority of the ali‘i and faipule in districts and villages.

Let us now consider how far we have already gone towards attaining these three objectives. As regards the first objective, the existence of the Council of State and of this Assembly are in themselves proof that we have made a good start, and I think none of us are in doubt that we in some measure understand the way by which we should advance further towards our objective. As regards the second objective—the development of the authority of the ali‘i and faipule so that it can deal with the increasing demands made upon it—this Commission has found that many districts and villages have themselves made great progress along this line of development. But it cannot be said the Government itself has as yet done anything substantial. As regards the third objective—that of maintaining a link between the two fields of authority—we are still relying upon machinery which has not changed basically since the headquarters of the old Samoan Government was replaced by “the Mulinu‘u office” in the early days of Governor Solf's rule. And when I make that statement I am not in any way reflecting upon the work which has been done by a succession of officials, both European and Samoan; I am page 71 merely pointing out that the constitutional machinery for maintaining a link between the Samoan Government and district and village authorities has not changed in accordance with the changing political interests and needs of Samoa.

I know that none of us doubt the importance of making progress in this sphere of governmental activity, and none of us doubt that such progress must be made as an essential part of the process of evolution towards self-government. In particular, the problem of finding a way of giving legal recognition to the authority of the ali‘i and faipule is one which has aroused deep interest over many years past. The matter has been discussed many times by the Fono of Faipule, and a considerable amount of discussion took place at various times in the past among Government officers. The debate in this Assembly last year, prior to the setting-up of the Commission, is sufficient indication of the continued importance which is attached by the people of Samoa to this subject.

With each year that passes it becomes more necessary that the Government should take some action. The composition of Samoan village communities is gradually changing, so that the problems of the ali‘i and faipule are continually growing more complicated. In practically every village there are now people who have been away from their homes for some considerable period of their lives, either working or at school. Also there are others living in the villages whose present way of life does not fit completely within the traditional manner of living of the Samoan people—traders, school-teachers, S.M.P.'s, and others. The experience which these people have gained, and the work which they arc doing, are essential to the progress of the country. Indeed, one can say that without their presence there would be no chance of making life fuller and more satisfying in the various ways in which we now expect it to be. But the presence of these educated people does mean that the authority of the ali‘i and faipule is exposed to a strain that it was not exposed to before. Where it is badly exercised it will be exposed to criticism to a greater degree than was the case in the past. For these reasons it becomes increasingly necessary that the Government should give all the assistance it can to the ali‘i and faipule in maintaining law and order in their communities and in assisting them to develop the system of control so that it can take full advantage of the new opportunities which are now available to the people.

During our malaga, members of the Commission attained a great wealth of evidence upon the way in which these problems are affecting every village in Western Samoa. Everywhere that we went we found sympathy for the work that we were doing and high expectations that our report would lead to a development in Government policy of the most fundamental importance to the political future of the country as a whole and to the progress and orderliness of every village in the country.

As I have mentioned, we found interesting developments taking place in many parts of Samoa. We found district fonos, like those of Falealili and Safata, working together to develop their districts as a whole—initiating various improvements in the methods of dealing with district problems and seeking to build up new services to the people. We discussed the work of many interesting Committees, such as the District Committee of Falealupo, which not only makes the regulations for Falealupo but page 72 deals with those who commit offences. Or, again, I might refer to the Gaega‘emauga District Committee and the important work that it has already done in regard to the construction of Fagamalo Hospital, development of Tutaga School, and in other ways, beside planning to organize and develop the plantation work of the whole district. Then again we discussed with the ali‘i and faipule in many places the manner in which they were running their schools, the way in which they were collecting money for the building of permanent school houses, like those of Malie and Vaisala. We saw in Vaisala how a school house can be used as a social centre for the men and women of the community in the evenings, where people listen to the radio, have card parties, and generally use the school house to provide a more varied social life than would be possible without the advantage of such a building. Indeed, there were an almost limitless number of developments of various kinds which we came across which augur well for the future of district and village government in this country.

In village after village we found the people increasing the scale of their plantations and developing the village in the ways to which I have referred because of the good relations which were being maintained between the ali‘i and faipule and the other sections of the community. On the other hand, we came upon a few places where the ali‘i and faipule seem far less capable of dealing with the problems which confront them. They are villages where school buildings and water-supplies, where they exist, are in bad repair, and where, amongst other things, we found evidence that harsh penalties are often being imposed for the most trivial offences. Among the most serious results of such mismanagement by the ali‘i and faipule is the frequent absence of a large section of the taulele‘a. In a number of badly managed villages we found that there were too few taulele‘a left to take proper care of plantations. In the face of the evidence, we could come to no other conclusion but that it was a matter of urgent importance that the Government should take all steps in its power to assist the majority of districts and villages in Samoa to develop further along the lines of which they are already advancing so hopefully. And, similarly, we could only come to the conclusion that the Government must encourage the ali‘i and faipule of villages which are dealing with matters less successfully to realise that the solution of their problems does not lie in harshness and inconsistency, but along the opposite line of working towards a policy that will satisfy the needs and desires of the younger people under their control. Those are some of the facts and ideas which lie behind our present report.

The first conclusion which we reached in regard to our report was that Government recognition of the authority of the ali‘i and faipule must be in accordance with the existing practice of each district and village. The Government must give recognition to such fonos and committees as actually exist in each district and village and satisfy the present desires and needs of the people of that district or village. As I shall explain in a moment, our opinion on that matter was one of the main reasons why we decided to recommend the establishment of a District and Village Government Board. We propose that that Board should be composed of the High Commissioner, the Hon. Fautua, and six members nominated page 73 by the Fono of Faipule; it would also have a full-time Secretary. In paragraph 29 of our report we have explained the purposes of this Board in the following words:—

“A District and Village Government Board is needed as a bridge between the central Government and the various district and village authorities. It is needed to interpret the requirements of modern administration and of the law to the ali‘i and faipule and to explain the requirements of the ali‘i and faipule to the Government. Further, it is needed as a means of working out the respective fields of activity of the Government and of the ali‘i and faipule and the forms of co-operation between them.”

One of the most important functions of that Board, in its first years of operation, if it were to be set up, would be that of working out with the representatives of the districts and villages the form which the recognition of the authority of the ali‘i and faipule should take in regard to that district or village. To explain the matter a little further, the district would put forward a proposal explaining what authority it desired to receive government recognition. That proposal would be fully discussed with the Board, and after details had been agreed on and the Board had satisfied itself that the scheme was in accordance with the law and with Government policy, it would then make a recommendation to the High Commissioner that that local authority be legally recognized and be granted the powers that it desired.

In putting forward its proposals, the district would explain what fonos and committees it wished to be recognized by the law. It would say what powers of making regulations those bodies should have, who should carry out their decisions (that is, the pulenu‘u and any Committee which might exist for such a purpose), who should try those who broke the law or local regulations. When the High Commissioner had issued a proclamation declaring that a particular district or village authority was recognized by the law, its actions would possess the same authority in regard to the matters it had been authorized to deal with as do the actions of the Government itself. That, of course, is the most fundamental matter upon which the Commission will be making recommendations. I may perhaps say in passing that the Commission is at present engaged in working out the necessary details on this question. Our recommendations should ensure that the authority of the ali‘i and faipule will be placed upon firm foundations for the future, and that the present conflicts which sometimes occur between the methods and authority of the Government and the methods and authority of the ali‘i and faipule will become a thing of the past. There are other matters as well upon which the Commission will be making recommendations, such as the best means of co-operation between Government Departments, such as the Medical Department, the Education Department, and the Department of Agriculture, on the one hand, and the ali‘i and faipule, on the other hand. But I do not wish to comment upon them at the present time, as I have already spoken for long enough.

Before concluding, I merely want to make one or two points of explanation in regard to the reasons why we propose the setting-up of a District and Village Government Board.

First of all, a Board is needed to carry on the work which the Commission has begun, by discussing with the districts and villages the precise form in which in each case they wish their authority to receive recognition. Secondly, it will be needed to discuss with districts and villages any changes in their powers or method of organization which page 74 they find with experience to be desirable. Thirdly, it will be needed to assist district and village authorities in making sure that their, regulations are in accordance with the law and in a form in which the law-courts will be prepared to back them by enforcing them when the occasion arises. Fourthly, it will be needed to advise the ali‘i and faipule on difficult problems which have arisen. In such cases the Board may well be able to give much help. From its knowledge of what has been done in all districts and villages it may be able to explain simply how a problem which is new and baffling in one district has already been successfully solved somewhere else.

But why, it may be asked, should these functions be entrusted to a Board? First of all, it is desirable to obtain the advice and assistance in these matters of a group of people, and a group of people who meet as equals and can discuss matters on equal terms. That would be better than to have, say, a head of a Government Department and a number of subordinate officers who would feel themselves obliged to back him up. Secondly, it is desirable that this work of providing a link between the Central Government and the ali‘i and faipule should be performed by people who have intimate contact with the ali‘i and faipule and who, at the same time, are conscious that they are working towards the object of Samoan self-government.

If it is asked why this work could not be done by an Executive Council, if it should be set up, or by some other type of Board, my answer is a simple one. It is this: That the amount of work in carrying out discussions with the representatives of districts and villages will be very considerable. Members of this Assembly will have noticed in the report that although we have said that the High Commissioner and the Hon. Fautua should be members of the Board, it is only proposed that they should be present at meetings where important decisions are to be taken. It would be the job of the other members to do the large amount of routine work involved, such as that of carrying out discussions with districts and villages.

And now, finally, I must explain why we decided that we would present this first report at this stage in order to start discussion as early as possible. There has been much delay in the past in dealing with this matter, and we felt it necessary to do what we could to ensure that such unnecessary delay does not occur again. In addition, we wanted to make sure that the ali‘i and faipule, who have shown such sympathy towards the work of the Commission, should not be disappointed in the high expectations which they now have of the results of our work. Much work will have to be done before our proposals finally reach the stage where they can be put into operation. First of all, there will be the process of public discussion which we are beginning here in the Assembly to-day. Then, after that, it will be necessary for legislation to be drafted and discussed in this Assembly. But if the Governement accepts our recommendation to set up a District and Village Government Board and acts upon it, then the necessary steps will have to be taken to ensure that the process of orderly advancement towards the final conclusion to which we look forward has been got under weigh. Once a Board has been set up, the responsibility will have been placed firmly upon a Samoan authority to ensure that the authority of the ali‘i and faipule is placed upon a firmer footing for the future. The Samoan Government itself will then be based more firmly upon the foundation of Samoan tradition. Only upon that basis, I believe, can this country develop satisfactorily towards that full self-government which all its inhabitants desire.