Some months ago, I wrote a letter to the Samoa Observer challenging the proprosition requiring all Members of Parliament (MP) to hold a matai title, which afterwards was passed into law anyway. My objection was based on the incongruity of traditional status society with ideal democratic culture. The attempts therefore to impose and mandate matai title requirements for MPs may prove errant, discriminatory and possibly illegal. This was the crux of my letter.
Now I understand the intention and desire of the Prime Minister (PM) and others to infuse, perpetuate and maintain traditional status and dignity of the matai (chiefly) system in Parliament (Fono). I further understand the desire and wishes of many to design and fashion a cultural democracy for Samoa, which seems a good and lofty idea - though only in theory, at least. Practically, however, it’s a challenge at best, and an anomaly at worst within the ideal context of democratic ideology, a system which Samoa - claiming as a devout advocate - flaunts in the face of Pacific dissident nations like Fiji.
The anomaly is audaciously evident against the modern legal system backdrop, which is supposed to be the bellwether institution for democracy, especially in maintaining its judicial independence. Unfortunately, Samoa’s judiciary - especially as of late - seems a puppet in the ambidextrous manipulative hands of the present government, defying and turning a cold shoulder to democratic principles and ideals.
In the letter, I specifically used the Individual Voters’* MPs as an anomaly. These representatives were asked to acquire matai titles - which is as easy as "buying a loaf of bread", according to the PM. The PM apparently may not have had a keen foresight and profound understanding of the matai system. Although a matai is considered the "head" of a family, appointed by the family, his authority is granted by the village fono and therefore the full execution of his office and power has to be within the confines and demarcations - social and otherwise - of the village fono. In essence, a matai cannot exist and function independent - or outside - of a village and its fono. A title - like the individual - in the Samoan context, has its tupuaga (origin) as well as its faasinomaga (heritage/legacy).
This puts the MPs for the Individual Voters at odds with both the culture and government, hence creating, at least, a political and legal conundrum. Of course they can easily acquire or "buy" (in the PM’s analogy) their titles. But to what village will their monotaga** be rendered? Which pulenu’u/sui ole nu’u (mayor) will sign their monotaga declaration? The PM, the government and the courts, I’m sure, can still circumvent the issue by referring these MPs to the "village of their titles" in order to meet and satisfy the election requirements. But what does that do to the dual loyalty and conflict of interest issues that will certainly percolate?
With its monopoly on power now, the government can and will do anything. The courts will swim along too - upstream. In fact I think the government can create a traditional village for the Individual Voters complete with its faalupega (salutations), a fono and pulenu’u just to accommodate the law. If not, the PM and government can always make exceptions for the Individual Voters’ MPs. Or can they? They have already rescinded the matai title "exception" for these MPs and to grant them a monotaga exception, will only reveal and expose their - to use the PM’s favorite word - "stupidity". Don’t even be surprised if the government ends up passing a law creating a special category for these matai titles and call them "dummy" (no pun intended) titles. Or might as well bring back the matai palota (ballot matai) who do not render any monotaga.
Furthermore, does the definition of a monotaga pass legal muster? As it is presently - with the absence of a concise fair and legal definition - the pulenu’u/sui o le nu’u will have to SUBJECTIVELY decide if a monotaga has been rendered by a particular candidate. This subjectivity can be a seed and tenet of totalitarianism and dictatorship. It certainly is a legal blooper.
But it all comes down to this scenario: A typical electoral matai candidate and Individual Voter candidate both have matai titles. But both had not satisfied the monotaga requirement, and so the former is punished while the latter is rewarded. Something is definitely amiss in this case.
Would the monotaga - with all its portentous complexities - had been an issue, or questioned, if the all-matai Parliament law had not passed? The government has certainly opened a can of worms and a pandora’s box by mandating matai titles for all MPs. When the PM suggested to the candidates for the Individual Voters to just go to their families to get a title, he apparently did not anticipate other obligations of a matai to come into play, especially when most have now been regulated.
And here’s a sad but plausible truth: With its adamant efforts to forge a pure traditional Parliament (Fono) with all "pure" matai, and in light of present developments, the government (HRPP) may view the Individual Voters Roll as a thorn and prick on its side.
*Individual Voters Roll contains Samoan citizens of foreign and mixed descent and their spouses and naturalized citizens. These voters have two representatives (MPs) in Parliament. IVR members do not belong to a typical Samoan village hence are not part of the typical electoral districts which are largely governed by traditional Samoan socio-political elements - mainly the matai system.
**required services rendered by a matai (chief) to the village to which his chiefly title belongs.