|village fono (council of chiefs) - photo NPAS|
Monotaga or No Monotaga (updated)
(My aunty and sister would cringe at the eponymous title.)
Monotaga, as a cultural and traditional practice of rendering services to the village by certain matais should not be used as a requirement to be a candidate in the elections.
First of all, there is no specific definition of monotaga that would pass legal muster. The present irony, which borders on political and legal mockery, is that while Parliament had failed to come up with a definitive, unambiguous and fair definition and application, yet the courts went ahead and enforced what obviously is a vague and convoluted, if not a politically motivated, Act. The monotaga is therefore diminished in its traditional, cultural and altruistic role. It is now "defined", dictated and regulated by law - and classified as well.
Monotaga is a practice that is broad, general and relative at best. Different villages have their own interpretation and application despite the principle and idea being perceived as being the same and/or similar throughout Samoa. It's the same notion behind the adage "E sui faiga ae le suia faavae" (practices change but principles don't). Everyone can grasp the concept/principle of monotaga, but when it comes to its actual implementation, it varies and differs if not conspicuously relative and provisional. In fact, it proves even more problematic and unintelligible when it's ported over to a strictly legal construct. We need to remember that, more often than not, traditional and status-based cultural concepts do not dovetail well, if at all, into more modern democratic institutions. Monotaga therefore represents an at large challenge for developing societies trying to assimilate more modern legal and democratic practices.
Monotaga also proves to be discriminatory within the context of the present electoral configuration. The two principal constituencies (traditional and urban) are essentially different in composition and configuration, hence at odds with each other when it comes to modern political and/or legal principles. The urban constituency is an anomaly in the larger cultural configuration as well as in some people's aspirations to keep and maintain traditional elements - especially the faa-matai - within the more modern system of government.
As the clone of the Individual Voters Roll, the urban constituencies still have some of the old biased and discriminatory intimations. And to an extent, they have become a Pandora's box for the government. Initially, when the matai title requirement for Members of Parliament became law a few years ago, the impression then was that obtaining a matai title for the Individual Voters Roll representatives was "as easy as getting a loaf of bread" - and it was, obviously. Then the monotaga requirement naturally followed, if not imposed. And since it is something that is defined and understood exclusively within a traditional village, the question was to whom (what village) will the urban representatives render their monotaga, since there's no traditionally-formed village, per se, that they represent. And yet their titles may actually belong to a village in the territorial constituencies and in which, ironically, they are considered non-residents.
Therefore the resulting "evil" out of the proverbial box is dual loyalty. The urban representatives are now torn between their urban constituencies and the village of their titles. It's become a double duty. The suggested solution for these MP's is to pay and contribute to any projects within their urban constituencies, and that should satisfy the monotaga requirement. Simply put, monotaga, as rendered in the territorial constituencies, and now required by law, does not apply to them. However, according to customs, and to the PM, they still need to render their monotaga or risk being called not real matais. It seems that the more the government wants to create a seamless co-existence between the two constituencies, the more they're drawn apart. There is a convincement within the government that due to Samoa's cultural diversity, equality across the board is not possible. What, in essence, the government is saying is that in some cases, inequality, prejudice and discrimination will still be part of life in paradise and can/should be tolerated. Just learn to live with them.
I'm sure that if it weren't for the law that requires a matai title to be a Member of Parliament, the monotaga would not have been an issue at all. Be the former as it may then, but drop the latter. I understand the main concern about matais who do not take seriously their responsibilities and become calculating and conniving especially close to election time.
Also certain matais like paramount chiefs (ali'i sili) are not supposed to render any monotaga according to customs and traditions. They are exempt. Yet some are already in Parliament. An example would be the representative from Aleipata Itupa i Lalo (Tafua). On the other extreme, so-called low ranking matais and those who may still hold their matai palota (ballot titles) are not expected to render any monotaga, and yet their titles have been registered and therefore are still legitimate. These matais can still run as candidates using these "inferior" titles but should not be required and/or expected to render any monotaga.
So here's my suggestion. Leave the monotaga in its traditional place. As for the candidates, make it a requirement to pay a registration fee. The fee should be non-refundable. It should be an amount representing an average across the board for a three years' worth of monotaga. And most importantly, instead of the government keeping the money, give it to the village(s). Though it sounds like a monotaga, it actually is not. It should not be considered as something in lieu of a monotaga. This registration fee is something that can be measured, is more equal, fair and can pass legal muster. Meanwhile let the village council deal with monotaga issues as part of their local administrative functions.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive." - Sir Walter Scott
(Oi aue, se faamoega i na lavelave ua tatou lalaga
Mai se ulua'i taupulepulega ina ia tatou taulalama.)
Manuia le alo atu i faiga palota!