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The Revolt of the Samoans

The Legislative Council and Promises Dishonoured

The Legislative Council and Promises Dishonoured

Another source of genuine dissatisfaction in Samoa is the flagrant manner in which promises made by the New Zealand Government have been dishonoured. This is especially so in connection with the Legislative Council. The Samoa Constitution Order, 1919, provided for a Legislative Council to consist wholly of nominated members- four of whom were to be "official" members, with unofficial members not more in number than the official members. The Samoa Act, 1921, repeated this provision; and there was soon a demand on the part of both Samoans and Europeans for representation. The 1922 Samoa Report says that among a certain section of the Samoans "there is a desire for complete self-government"; and the 1923 Report sets forth that "the citizens of Western Samoa are most anxious to be granted direct representation on the Legislative Council as a first step towards self-government." The pressure of this sentiment produced the sections of the Samoa Amendment Bill, 1923, relating to the Legislative Council. This amendment changed the number of official members from "not less than four" to "not more than six," and retained the provision that the unofficial members should be not more in number than the official members, but added that "the unofficial members may be either elected members or partly elected and partly nominated members, as the Governor-General-in-Council from time to time determines." The Governor-General-in-Council was empowered to determine the number of members to be elected and the mode of election, the qualfication of electors and candidates, the tenure of the elected representatives, and the forfeiture of their office. He was also to decide when the Legislative Council should meet. The nominee members were to hold office at the pleasure of the Governor-General-in-Council or for five years. From this it will be seen how absolutely the New Zealand Government held in its own hands the power to control the affairs of Samoa.

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In introducing the 1923 Bill, the then Minister of Education, Mr. (now Sir James) Parr went to much trouble to explain that one of it6 purposes was to give the Samoans the right to elect two of their own number to the Legislative Council. The Europeans were to have the right to elect three representatives. Mr. Parr said the Government was trying the experiment of giving Samoa a partial local government. For the first time the principle of election to the Council was being recognised, and he thought that this was the first time in the history of any colony where, within three years after being taken over, elective powers such as these were given to the people. A general discussion developed on the proposal to give Legislative Council representation to the Samoans, and the Minister's statements were accepted as the Government's policy. In the same year, the Samoa Legislative Council passed an Ordinance in conformity with the amending Act and the Minister's promises. But, after four years had elapsed, the promise made by the Government remained unfulfilled; and, when challenged on this point last session, the only excuse the Government could offer was in effect that, through not understanding the position, Mr. Parr in 1923 misrepresented the Government's intentions. This, of course, does not explain why when Mr. Parr's statement was made it was acquiesced in by the then Prime Minister and every member of the Cabinet. Moreover, if Mr. Parr's pronouncement was really a mistake, it is peculiar, to say the least, that it should not have been corrected until after four years had gone, and then only after the matter was raised from the Opposition benches.

Mr. Parr's 1923 statement contained another promise which in its essentials has been dishonoured. This affected the electoral rights of the Europeans, who (he said) would have the right to elect three of their number to the Legislative Council. It is true that three European Legislative Councillors have been elected; but the, electoral qualification has been determined on a property and income basis which disfranchises 75 per cent, of those who should have the right to vote. According to the evidence given before the Joint Samoa Committee, there are about 1,000 adults in Samoa who rank as Europeans; but on the electoral list last election there were only 222 qualified electors!

At the last sitting of the Samoa Legislative Council (which was the only sitting permitted to be held since the election in 1926), the Hon. O. F. Nelson moved in favour of giving the Samoans representation on the Council as promised them in connection with the Samoa Amendment Act, 1923, and the Samoa Legislative Council (Elective Membership) Order, 1923. The motion was met by the Administrator with the objection that there was no workable scheme by which they could get "suitable" Samoans elected to the Council-Samoans who would be acceptable to the whole of the Samoan people, he explained. The Administrator did not raise the objection that either Mr. Parrs promise or the Legislative Council Ordinance was made in error. All the Government members voted against Mr. Nelson's motion.

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It may interest readers to know that after the 1926 elections the elected members of the Legislative Council were required to obtain passports before they could visit their constituents in islands other than that on which they lived.