Am. Samoa Mulls Regulating Customary Gifts In Government

admin's picture

Fa’alavelave under discussion to decrease pressure on families

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 16, 2013) – The Lolo-Lemanu Administration in American Samoa is looking at regulating cultural contributions within the government, with Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga noting his concern over the impact of "fa’alavelave" financial contributions on families with very little income, particularly when they are forced to give beyond their economic means.

This matter was also raised by Lt. Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga in a past cabinet meeting where he stated that this matter will be discussed among directors and agency heads in order to come up with the best possible solution for how much an American Samoa government (ASG) employee will be expected to donate — as well as directors, when there is a fa’alavelave.

In the fa’alavelave custom, family and friends are expected to donate or contribute money, and other customary gifts, such as fine mats and food, for a wedding, funeral or on other significant occasions.

According to the Governor’s Executive Assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, this issue is being discussed on a broader basis to determine the best course of action that is acceptable to everyone to reduce the financial burden placed on families because of the cultural custom of gift giving or donations for faalavelave.

"It might take a cultural conference to bring all the traditional leaders together to address this issue that is directly affecting families' finances.

"The cost of living continues to climb and disposable income reciprocally shrinks, hence decreasing disposable income to families to meet everyday needs.

"Unregulated cultural contributions only make this situation worse," he said. He made it clear that the issue is only in the discussion phase.

Department of Commerce director, Keniseli Lafaele commented on the matter noting that as to the extent that cultural spending impacts the education and health development of American Samoa's young people (the future of the territory), then there should be some territorial policy to encourage families to control cultural spending to a reasonable level and place more of their limited incomes to education/trade schools, health care, and healthy living and significantly less on education and health.

"I believe this pattern of spending is a contributing factor to the general health status and scholastic/vocational aptitude of our young people — the future of American Samoa," said Lafaele. He further noted the policy by the current administration to place a limit on fa'alavelaves when directors or members of their immediate families pass is a good policy.

"If I recall correctly, the 1995 household income and expenditure report by the DOC indicated the "church and cultural spending" consumed 40% of the average household income. Our statistics division is being reinforced to conduct current surveys and interpret existing surveys and census reports to provide a solid information basis upon which social and economic development policies are based."

An ASG official who wished not to be named said the government should not even be holding a discussion on this issue, regardless of what the faalavelave is within the department. "It should be done after hours as part of friends-coworkers talking about giving to one of their own out of their love and respect for the person, not because they must do it because they will look bad within the department if they don't. This way they will not be pressured to do so."

Department of Youth and Women Affairs acting director, Pa’u Roy Ausage said faalavelave are unavoidable and it happens. "Thus, it should be decided by those who are going to be involved in the contributions and saofaga."

One director who wished not to be named pointed out that this is one of the aspects of life where people are suffering. "When there is a faalavelave, it’s actually supposed to be given out of your good heart yet it’s a burden for other people, because it’s almost like they are being forced to do it and this is the very reason that causes people to struggle."

He further noted that traditional or customary gift giving is a factor forcing people into poverty and maybe it’s a good idea to discourage this practice.

Pa’u also noted that family, community and church obligations were identified as leading causes of poverty.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment