Village Councils, curfews and the need for clarity on the issue of rights

It’s undeniable that in Samoa, Village Councils play an integral part in maintaining law and order. In other words, without Village Councils, it would be fair to say the limited number of Police officers would have quite a tough time trying to keep the peace and ensure stability throughout this country we call home.

But what happens where there is no Village Council? Who calls the shots and by whose definition can someone claim to be a Village representative from the Government in these areas? Do people have an obligation to obey them?

Ladies and gentlemen, these questions are becoming more and more relevant on the outskirts of the Apia Township where many villages are made up of freehold lands. Technically, no one has the outright authority over what people can and cannot do in these villages. Even more important is the demarcation of what can and cannot be done on public lands – that cover roads and other public utilities.

The recent case of residents questioning a curfew at Lalovaea immediately springs to mind. At the beginning of the year, Peseta Demetrius Fogaseuga Taofiga, questioned a curfew imposed there, which blocks the public road every other day.

“I have noticed that other villages that do curfews do not allow the cars to turn into the homes but these people who call themselves village representatives are blocking a public road,” Peseta said.

“If you compare curfews done by other villages, people stand in front of people’s houses but chains are used to stop cars - chains are only used to lock cattle or cows; they are treating us like a cattle farm, as if we are people who have no brains.

“Another thing is Lalovaea is not a nu’u mavae (a village with honorifics), then who are these people that do these curfews?”

Well when the Samoa Observer investigated, Tala’itaua Kelekolio Ah-Lin, stood up and said he is the Village Mayor. He added that they obtained all the necessary paper work to impose the curfew – including getting the support from the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.

“The road which everyone has to access in order to get into the village is through this road where we have our curfew,” he said. “The main road is Government road but once you turn into a village, that goes into effect with the curfew.”

Well what is he saying? He sounds just as confused as this issue itself. The thing here is, if a village does not have traditional honorifics (fa’alupega), who does the so-called Village Mayor represent? Himself and his family? And what right does one have over people who live on their own freehold land?

If anything, members of the public need a lot more clarity from the Government in relation to this issue. We say this because there are more and more of these situations popping up, especially in villages on the outskirts of Apia where people are buying up and settling on freehold lands.

In yesterday’s Samoa Observer, the Ministry's Chief Executive Officer, Afamasaga Faauiga Mulitalo, responded to questions from the Samoa Observer about the issue.

She said that in traditional villages, they have the male and female village representatives but for non-traditional villages like Lalovaea they have a (sui o le malo), which is a Government representative.

“We always put the message across during our monthly meetings with village representatives to try and look at ways to maintain peace and harmony within the communities wherever they are,” she said.

“It is because we have seen a lot of incidents involving young people in the town area, and it is a call for the leaders of the communities — not just Government representatives but also for church leaders — to please look into all the possible ways that we can maintain peace and stop violence.

“I guess that is one of the ways that the Lalovaea government representative looked at in maintaining peace, which was through a curfew because even in the traditional villages they are also doing curfews mainly to uphold peace and harmony and also bring back the old Samoan ways where families conduct evening prayers, which is usually the time for these curfews.”

Let’s be clear here. No one is disputing the importance of village curfews. They are important tools to maintain law and order throughout the country – where they are applicable. Out there in traditional villages, we strongly support their existence.

But the question has not been answered as to what extent and how legally binding these curfews, especially where there are no traditional village councils, like many sub-villages and new communities on the outskirts of Apia? 

Think of Vaitele fou, Vailele uta, Siusega, Falelauniu and many other places.

Is there an obligation for people who reside on their own freehold land to oblige with these curfews, especially when it involves public roads? Where do we draw the line between an individual’s right as guaranteed by the Constitution and someone who claims to have the authority as a village representative?

These are critical question, no doubt worth thinking about this weekend. What do you think?

Have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!

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