II. FISHERY RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT IN SAMOA
C. Policies and institutional arrangements
4. Weaknesses of the political policies
If one person in the peer group does not agree, even if no reason is stated, the matter can be shelved for later debate or dropped entirely. This can lead to frustrating delays in environmental action as a key person might object for reasons which have nothing to do with the actual project, thus preventing initiation of important activities, regulations, or laws. The real reasons for refusing to agree might never be known. Where the group must reach a decision, a person might object as long as possible as a means of convincing someone else to co-operate on another issue.
Because of the intricate lines of power and decision-making within a peer group, individuals might be unwilling to table an issue until they are reasonably certain of support within the group. With issues that are not of great importance, a Minister may decide not to bring them up at all, especially if he is having a political dispute with another Minister. It would not be worth the embarrassment of having the other person object. This often means that new ideas, and especially ideas originating from outside the Samoan community, are not discussed.
The consensus process takes a lot of time. The NEMDC took 4 years to develop policy on 4 of 12 urgent, high priority environmental issues. The policies still must reach consensus in Parliament and Cabinet.
The 1992 National Environmental Management and Development Strategies, prepared in less than a year with assistance from SPREP, contained policy and action on all 12 issues and the document was accepted by Cabinet. Yet these policies and actions were then ignored and a more serious and lengthy process of policy development began. While the first attempt was a starting point, it is clear the process was inadequate. In other countries of the region similar environmental management plans have simply been ignored.
The vertical lines of authority in Samoan society are critical to recurring problems in environmental management. The flow of information is from the top down unless information is specifically requested from those on a lower level of the chain of command. Information is seldom volunteered to one in a higher position. Lower management is expected to operate within their terms of reference and specific briefs.
When lower or middle level government officials attend training courses or return from overseas education, they may have difficulty presenting the new concepts to their superiors, let alone implementing the ideas. This is especially frustrating when the technical or professional level government worker knows that a higher level decision is wrong from a technical or scientific viewpoint. They cannot argue a point, especially with someone who is not immediately their superior, unless specifically asked to do so. Even if a minister asks directly, the professional must consider the viewpoint of the immediate supervisor in any answer and dare not contradict what might have already been said.
Government professionals or middle management officials therefore often ask consultants or others who are "outside" the vertical lines of command to make suggestions or pass along information to the upper level of the sector or to other sectors.
Lateral movement of information is also difficult between different sectors of a vertical hierarchy. One never knows what the boss has decided or what political complications might exist between the upper echelons. To confer with another professional or mid-management level government worker might be hazardous if there are tensions at a higher level. Information must, therefore, be passed up the chain of command and the higher level management may - or may not - pass it along to the other sector.
The National Environmental Management and Development Committee was an unusual and potentially useful means of breaking this inhibition. It can only be sustained, however, if the ministers want it to be and are willing to seriously consider the issues that are passed along by the Committee.
Finally, enforcement of national government fisheries regulations (such as the law against using explosives for fishing) remains a problem. Even if at the village level there is agreement with a law, it must be dealt with by the appointed national agency responsible for that law or the national judicial system.
For example, a farmer who violates the regulation forbidding clearing land within 60m of a stream or river must be dealt with by the Public Works Authority, not the Village Council. The Village Council could pass a similar ordinance but they are unlikely to do so because the national legislation already exists. Since the national government has insufficient funds or manpower to police the whole country, such laws are simply ignored.