Ears on the Wall Syndrome: Friendship to fiendship...

24 August 2012

Without the ‘r’ (respect), friendship becomes fiendship. And so it was that three weeks ago a New Zealand government delegation returned from Samoa after celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

I must say there was a lot of media coverage showing both sides greeting each other with the usual pretentious smiles and handshakes, accompanied by praising and lauding speeches to whet the ego of each respective sides. And before you know it, they were wishing each other a prosperous future, without even an apology or offer of compensation from the New Zealand government to acknowledge their lack of commitment to the Treaty of Friendship over the decades.

Perhaps, there was no time for apologies, as it was a ‘wham bam thank you ma’am whirlwind twenty-four hour time limit’ visitation (if you include the time for sleep, breakfast, welcome protocols, morning tea, lunch, sightseeing, etiquettes, afternoon tea, cultural entertainment, dinner, and airport transfers).

The whole political showcase was an adrenalin rush, and the whole celebration was over so quickly it took a while for many people to register and absorb the significance of what the visitation and celebration meant for both countries, especially for Samoa. There were a few Samoan MPs among the New Zealand delegation and much of their comments centred on the hospitality and friendliness of the Samoan people, and the great respect they showed for the visiting delegation. The comments from other MPs were in similar vein, and it clearly showed the whole celebration was just an exercise in political correctness, and a chance for a break from the mundane routine of political quibbling back in the Beehive.

And apart from the $5 million hand-out to help pay school fees for Samoan pupils over the next three years, nothing was said on the status, usefulness, and practicability of the existing Treaty of Friendship. I was even more surprise with Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi’s lack of comments regarding the continued usefulness of the present Treaty of Friendship to Samoa. But, it gave Toasavili John Key a clear path to boast and laud New Zealand’s efforts in fulfilling the Treaty of Friendship when he said, “our relationship is in great shape.” I, for one, just glanced at what went on in Samoa on the 31st of July, 2012, without comment; perhaps the Louisa Wall ‘gay marriage’ bill side-tracked my attention.

Nevertheless, most people were hypnotised by the euphoria of the whole celebration and the awe-ness created by such a high profile visit. But, soon after, murmurs filled the air, questions were asked, and discussions ensued, both in Samoa and New Zealand; and the discussions in the tabloids recently has confirmed the feeling among Samoans of being betrayed by New Zealand once again. But, most importantly, there is a realisation that Samoans have missed a great opportunity to re-negotiate or, better still, hold New Zealand accountable to the terms of the Treaty of Friendship.

It is not too late to do so.

The editorial by Sano Malifa entitled, What ‘Treaty of Friendship’ is PM John Key talking about? was a much needed poke in the ribs for all Samoans. It reminds us not to be too quick to forget what New Zealand had done to Samoa in the past. We should not become complacent and easily satiated by New Zealand hand-outs, blinding us from expecting justice, goodwill and benefits that the Treaty of Friendship had once epitomised. The terms of the treaty were negotiated by a Labour government under the leadership of Walter Nash who was in his last few months of a one term office (1957 – 1960); a National government, under the leadership of Sydney Holland and Keith Holyoake (1949 – 1957), had earlier overseen Samoa’s road to independence.

The Treaty of Friendship was signed on August 1, 1962 by then Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Mataafa Faumuina II, and J.B. Wright, the New Zealand High Commissioner in Samoa.  The implementation of the treaty terms for many years afterwards rested with successive National governments under Keith Holyoake and Jack Marshall respectively, until their dominancy ended in 1972 with Labour coming into power under Norman Kirk. Understandably, High Commissioners are considered ambassadors who officially represent and act on behalf of their countries, but given the importance of the Treaty of Friendship to both countries at the time, the New Zealand Prime Minister should have been a better friend and signed the Treaty of Friendship personally to satisfy one of the conditions of the treaty as being between the “government of sovereign and equal states.”

New Zealand, once again, played the role of the colonist and treated Samoa with very little respect. I believe, from that moment on, the Treaty of Friendship quickly lost impetus, and the writing was on the wall for further depreciation in the years to come. Despite the lack of respect shown to the newly independent state of (Western) Samoa by New Zealand, the signing of the Treaty of Friendship was good timing, especially for New Zealand. The demand for unskilled labourers saw many Samoans responding to the call and this was a reflection of the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship. Samoans came to New Zealand on three to six months visas, and were exempted from being registered as ‘aliens’; a reflection once again of the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship. Many Samoans overstayed their permit, but because of the need for labourers, a blind eye was probably cast over the perpetrators. But a downturn in the economy early in the 1970s saw a government backlash towards migrants, especially the Samoan over-stayers.

But, the coming to power of a Labour government stalled the inevitable for three years. In 1975, the Treaty of Friendship became the Treaty of Fiendship for Samoans. Robert Muldoon, at the helm of the National government engaged Police, with dogs, and Immigration Officers, to raid and hunt Pacific Islanders over-stayers, especially Samoans, during early hours of the morning; and from that time till now much of what the Treaty of Friendship stood for have eroded further from its original precincts and promises through legislation; in almost all of these legislation, the National Party have been in power.

Out of the dawn raids, the case between Falema’i Lesa and New Zealand Immigration went all the way to the Privy Council, and a landmarked decision gave Samoans born before 1948 the right to citizenship in New Zealand. The National government, in a very unfriendly manner and, again, not in the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship, immediately put pressure on the Samoan government to sign an agreement to stop Samoans migrating to New Zealand en masse. The signature on the ‘protocol’ was vital, as it gave Robert Muldoon the opportunity to enact the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Bill, 1982, restricting the amount of Samoans migration into New Zealand. Since 1982, the Samoan Quota Scheme has been the pipeline for Samoans to New Zealand. However, in recent years, under National governments, it has become harder and harder for Samoans to fulfil the strict conditions of the quota scheme. Almost all Samoans that are successful in the quota scheme ballot are unskilled, but jobs for unskilled labourers are scarce, and with the salary cap being raised to over $40,000 as one of the conditions for a job accepted by immigration, the quota has become a carrot dangling in front of many Samoans with, realistically, very little chance of ever securing the carrot.

Much of the conditions now aim at ensuring only skilled and educated migrants succeed in their efforts to reside in New Zealand. Friendship between two “government of sovereign and equal states,” without the ‘r’ (for respect) is just a Treaty of Fiendship. ‘Fiend’ according to the dictionary means ‘an evil spirit or demon; the devil,’ and for me, personally, that sums up the New Zealand government’s approach over the 50 years of the Treaty of Friendship. The benefits from the Treaty of Friendship seems to lean heavily towards New Zealand. Much had been achieved under Labour governments in fulfilling the Treaty of Friendship. For instance, Helen Clarke paved the way when she apologised personally during her visit to Samoa on June 4, 2002, for all the wrongs New Zealand had done to Samoa in the past.; and there was a strong belief that Helen Clarke would rectify the mistakes made since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship by repealing the Citizens (Western) Samoa Act, but ran out of time when the National Party came to power.

Toasavili John Key and the National government can continue that ‘trend’ of friendship and wipe clean New Zealand’s slate with an announcement, under his watch, he would repeal the Citizens (Western) Samoa Act, or at least make it possible for Samoans to obtain the carrot, as an act of faith by the New Zealand government they are still committed to the original conditions of the Treaty of Friendship. Now, that would be something worthy of celebration to commemorate 50 years of friendship.

Samoans applaud the way the New Zealand government has tried to put right their blunders against the Maori people of Aotearoa in the past, and it is in that same spirit Samoans want the New Zealand government to revisit the Treaty of Friendship. It is not too late to put the ‘r’ back to fiendship. Samoans after all, since signing the Treaty of Friendship, have sought the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given to then to dwell, and they have prayed to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, they too will prosper.



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