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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

(d) Constitution of Fono and Committees

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(d) Constitution of Fono and Committees

52. One of the most important matters in which the details will have to be worked out for each local authority separately is that of the constitution of the various fono and committees. General legislation should merely authorize the recognition of certain types of fono and committees, and the details of their powers and membership should be decided in each case on the basis of the proposals put forward by each district and village. Those responsible for preparing such proposals will have to take special care to explain their wishes accurately and fully.

53. In regard to the membership of traditional fono, only a few points of difficulty are likely to arise. It is still the practice in all parts of Samoa to restrict membership to the matai, although in certain places a taule‘ale‘a may attend as secretary or treasurer (but not with the full rights of membership). Similarly, faife‘au, Samoan medical practitioners, traders, teachers, and others may attend on occasions when matters of professional interest to them are under discussion.

54. There is, however, one important matter in regard to the composition of fono on which it is necessary for the Commission to comment. That is the position of a matai who holds a title from some other district, and not from the district in which he is residing. In practice, the position of such a matai does not present any difficulty in most parts of Samoa, where the number of holders of titles from other places is small. In many villages in the vicinity of the Town of Apia, however, the number of matai from outside is very large. Indeed, in certain villages they outnumber those who hold local titles. Under such conditions, a real problem may come to exist unless care is taken to avoid it.

55. The Commission devoted considerable attention to this particular problem, and reached the conclusion that every precaution must be taken to see that the true custom in the matter is observed. According to Samoan custom, a matai coming to reside in a district other than his own should show proper respect for the pule of that district. If he desires to participate in its affairs, he should show himself willing to make all contributions required of other matai, including taking his share of responsibility for the support of the school and its teachers, and for the raising of funds for medical work and other village and district purposes. In return, it is proper for the ali‘i and faipule to let him take part in their affairs, including participation in discussions of the fono, when he has given adequate proof of his spirit of co-operation. In the opinion of the Commission, this customary practice still provides adequately for the position of a matai not holding a title from the district where he resides. In cases where difficulty has arisen it has, we consider, generally been due to a failure to observe the custom properly, either on the part of the individual matai concerned or on the part of the ali‘i and faipule.

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56. The proper solution, then, of this problem is to be found in full adherence to custom. It will be necessary, however, for some clear reference to be made to it in relation to the legal powers of district and village authorities. This reference should be made in the general legislation implementing our proposals, rather than in the individual schemes for particular districts or villages, since the same provisions will be applicable to all parts of the territory. As local authorities will be taking decisions having the force of law, it will be necessary to provide some legal guarantee that a matai who is co-operating in the affairs of the district or village where he lives shall have an opportunity of making his opinion heard in regard to such decisions. A guarantee would probably best be given by requiring that a matai who had lived in a district for a certain time and made the ordinary contributions should have the right of taking part in all discussions of the fono. The time required for a matai thus to quality might, perhaps, be twelve months, though in practice—as the Commission learnt on its malaga—many villages would be willing to allow participation much sooner. If a matai believed that he was being wrongfully excluded, it would be in his power to lodge a complaint, and the matter would then be judicially examined. The local authority concerned would be required either to show cause for excluding him or else to admit him.

57. In the membership of committees there is certain to be much greater variation than in that of district or village fono. Among existing district committees, members are chosen to represent the different villages in various ways. In some cases the number of representatives is in proportion to the population of the village; in others, it is not. The composition of village committees is subject to considerably greater variation between place and place. In some villages there is one general committee; in others, there are several to perform different duties. In some, all the matai are nominally members, whereas in the majority of places the membership of the Committee is kept fairly small. Certain villages have kept the committee as a body with a traditional structure and confined membership to the holders of particular orator titles. In other places, membership is much more open. In many villages there are now taulele‘a serving on village committees along with matai; and, in at least one or two places, representatives of the women also take part in the work of general village committees. The Commission believes that the actual composition of committees should be determined in accordance with the wish of a particular district or village. It should not be decided in the general law; and the District and Village Government Board, if it wishes to see improvements made in a proposal brought before it, should limit its action, generally, to persuasion, and not attempt to force its views on a district or village.

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58. The membership of all committees would therefore be decided on the basis of particular proposals put before the Board by a local authority. These would have to state the number of members and the manner in which they were to be appointed. This should not be allowed, however, to prevent the making of useful changes, when experience had shown them to be desirable. Such freedom could best be given by allowing committees the power to co-opt additional members. In some cases, districts or villages might wish to co-opt a S.M.P. or a school-teacher to a committee, and, in others, they might wish to appoint a trader who was taking an active part in local affairs. The addition of such persons to a committee, when it is desired by the original members, might greatly strengthen it in its work. It should not be discouraged by the Government, and as few restrictions as possible should be placed upon it. In the opinion of the Commission, a person of European status should not be excluded on that account if the committee wished to appoint him. The only restriction which should be placed on the power of co-option should be the requirement that those so appointed should be genuine local residents.