“Geographic anomalies”? Sounds like an excuse to disadvantage Savai’i even more

The story titled “Upolu gains two new seats, Savai’i loses one” on the front page of the Monday Samoa Observer confirms everything that is wrong and unfair with the new division of the electoral constituencies for the upcoming General Elections.

Logistically it doesn’t make sense when you consider the fact Savai’i is the biggest island of Samoa. Politically this makes a mockery out of the Government’s catch cry of ‘what’s good for Upolu is also good for Savai’i.’

How can this be ‘good for Savai’i’ when this is clearly daylight robbery for the people of the big island who now only have 20 Members in Parliament while Upolu lavishes 31 seats? The disparity is startling, especially when we consider that a good majority of people living in Vaimauga, Faleata and on the outskirts of what is considered the Apia Township, are all from the big island.

But perhaps what makes this Government decision even more contradictory and extremely difficult to comprehend is the impact on a person’s fa’asinomaga (identity), fa’alupega (honorifics) and tuaoi (boundaries). Yes Samoa is not like any other country, our fa’asinomaga, fa’alupega, and tuaoi have already been demarcated and allocated. This is what makes Samoa unique.

Ironically all this is happening at a time when Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malieleaoi and his Government have been talking up the Samoan culture, telling people to return to their villages to sit in village council meetings (fa’alupega and fa’asinomaga).

These new electoral boundaries (tuaoi) do not support what they are saying. What it does do instead is it encourages people from Savai’i to cut ties with their villages and constituencies, so that all this talk about Samoan culture, traditions, boundaries and village rights becomes farcical.

Let us explain. Unless you are a matai, who is already registered on the electoral roll for a constituency in Savai’i, the younger generation who have roots there, including many first time voters, will now have absolutely no obligation or inclination to return to Savai’i?

Which is an absolute travesty. Think about the future and what that means for the big island. People from Savai’i who are working and already well established in Upolu have children who will never be able to return and vote there.

Is this what the Government wants? So much for all this talk about Samoan culture, customs and pride in where people come from!

When people have no sense of belonging and ownership of anything – including what belongs to them - they become exiles in their own country. Regardless of what spin this Government puts on these new electoral constituencies, they are undermining the traditional boundaries of Samoa and discouraging urban dwellers from voting where they come from.

Of course it is convenient for the Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, to use “geographical anomalies” as a justification for what they have done. But this would have been okay if this were New Zealand, Australia or any other country without fa’alupega. But this is Samoa and this being the case, o Samoa o le atunu’u ua uma ona tofi.

Now let’s back up a bit and look at the geographical challenges. The question is, how did we get here in the first place? Why did all those people from Savai’i feel the need to leave their villages and move closer to Apia? Why are there more and more people from the big island congregating in Upolu?

The answer is very simple. They wanted a better opportunity at making a decent living, something that is not available in Savai’i. After nearly 40 years in power, the Government cannot tell us that there are equal education opportunities on both islands. We can say the same about business, employment and self-advancement opportunities.

This is because the Government’s mantra about ‘what’s good for Upolu is also good for Savai’I’ is merely lip service and a cop out when they open strategically timed projects in Savai’i before the election.

We don’t have to look far to understand how contradictory the Government’s attitude is towards Savai’i. Think of the recent developments in the tourism industry where the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) is making a big push to get more people to Savai’i to utilise the tourism infrastructure there.

How can that happen when the Government stops the Sunday inter-island voyages, which basically cancels out half if not more people from Upolu taking this up? The ability to return to Upolu on the last ferry on Sunday was perhaps the most attractive part for people with money from Upolu to go across? It’s because these very same people have work on Monday.

But this is just one example of many.

Now getting back to electoral boundaries and these electoral constituencies, the Government has often argued that people who live outside the constituency always decide the outcomes of elections. This is also why they have removed the special voting booths so now everybody will have to return to their villages to cast their votes.

Again, this does not make sense, especially when we think about Savai’i. The voters the Government is referring to are not “outsiders”. They belong to these villages and constituencies. It is not their fault that they have had to leave their villages to move closer to Apia.

If anything, it is the Government that has failed to provide what these people need so they could stay in their villages. Besides, has this Government ever stopped to consider the role of these so-called “outsiders” and what they do for their villages from Apia?

In many cases, and we know what we are talking about here, villagers who live outside of their villagers are a lot more effective and useful to the development of those villages.

How? Not only through monetary contributions to church and village affairs, their connections when it comes to village needs cannot be matched. It is through the connections of these sons and daughters that the villages are getting help for the school projects, library books, water, electricity and other basic needs.

When there is a major occasion in the village, like the umusaga of a church building or whatever, the village always relies heavily on help from villagers who do not live in these villages. This is far more important than someone, even matai, who just stays in the village and does nothing. Yes there are many of them.

The point is that all this talk about “geographical anomalies” is as confusing, political and illogical as the Government talking up the Samoan culture with the right hand while at the same time destroying it with the left hand.

It’s a joke, if only the subject matters weren’t so serious. Lastly, is it an illusion or it is a mere coincidence that the constituency of the Minister of the Electoral Office, now has four seats in Parliament?

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!







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