Seven students of Falealili College accused of breaking in and taking school properties have been slapped with a $1,000 and cattle fine by the Poutasi Village Council.
The decision was confirmed by the Village Mayor, Seuseu, who defended it saying that in the traditional Samoan setting, the Village Council has a responsibility to protect the school and teachers as they are on Poutasi land.
“This is what Village Councils are for,” he said.
“The school and teachers are our feagaiga (covenant). We have a responsibility to ensure their safety including pastors, teachers, doctors and the police.
“As you can see, all of these offices are based in our village. The school is also in our village and so we had to do something. Any other village would have done the same if it happened to them.”
Seuseu said the fines are meant to deter other people from doing the same thing – especially young people.
“This is a very serious matter. We do not take it lightly. If this kind of matter arises, we need to do something about it before it’s too late for these children.”
Although the families were fined $1,000, the Village Mayor said the families were not required to come up with the exact amount.
“I mean whether they gave $200 or $100, that’s fine. What we wanted to do was to send out a message and teach these children a lesson. We wanted to act before someone takes it to the Police and then the Court.
“And that’s something that we don’t want to hear because these children of ours need to stay in school and learn something good for their future especially for their families.”
Part of the fines was presented back to the school as a token of Poutasi’s regret about what had happened. The students, three in the Year 13, two in Year 11 and two in Year 10, are still at school.
But the decision was criticized by one Toa Sio who said the matter should never have reached the Village Council.
In a letter to the Samoa Observer, Toa said the School Principal should have dealt with the students within confines of the school.
"Why weren't these students suspended or expelled?” Toa wrote.
"Weren't these issues meant to be confidential? This matter was dealt with in a very unprofessional way. It happened before and it will happen again because the villages always give him money a povi and a big ie toga as if he (the Principal) is God to forgive the boys.”
Contacted for a comment, School Principal So’onalole Fonoti said he did not refer the matter to the Village Council.
He confirmed that the students broke into the school building and took food for their Food and Textiles subject and some of the school’s sports equipment.
“I didn’t take these students to the village,” the Principal said.
“What I’ve been told is that the Pastor of the village mentioned the issue during last Sunday’s sermon.
“I think that’s how the village knew about this and then they moved on their decision to fine these students.”
So’onalole added that this is not the first time and this perhaps explains the severity of the punishment.
“It was last year in November that the students broke in to my office, took some of my belongings and money and they were warned by the village,” he said.
“I took the matter to the Police and then the Committee advised me to withdraw the case.”
This time, So’onalole said the Village Council has acted as soon as they found out about what has happened.
He maintained that he did not encourage the decision.
“The village came up with their decision in relation to this matter. This was not my decision, this decision belongs to the village.”
The Principal said it should also be a lesson for other students to stay away from stealing.
As for the Village Mayor, he said he is disappointed about people who have questioned the village’s decision.
“As a pulenu’u (village mayor), this is really disappointing,” he said. “I know someone from this village or a family member of these children reported this to your paper.”
He said they will deal with whoever attempts to question the integrity of the village’s decision making.