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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 263-265

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Book Review

Governance in Samoa: Pulega i Samoa

Governance in Samoa: Pulega i Samoa, edited by Elise Huffer and Asofou So'o. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press, Australian National University and Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, 2000. ISBN 0-7315-3651-7, xiv + 222 pages, glossary, map, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$31.

"Good governance" is probably the major theme among World Bank development experts and aid donors when it comes to advising third world countries on how to conduct their public affairs, and how to ensure that [End Page 263] aid flows keep on flowing. While the official statements coming from the World Bank and other institutions of global economic governance often make it seem simple, the implementation of good governance agendas usually runs into a myriad of difficulties, large and small. Many of these stem from unrealistic expectations, inappropriate perspectives, and lack of understanding of local issues on the part of international agencies and their consultants, advisers, and managers. But the stumbling blocks are just as often strewn on the local landscape as well, as the contributors to this book illustrate.

The eleven chapters cover a variety of themes and problems ranging from the general subject of governance to more detailed coverage of issues in Samoa. The first, by Michael Goldsmith, provides an interesting discussion of the meaning of governance and some astute observations on the political, ideological, and moral dimensions of various meanings and applications of the term. He notes that the "whole issue of governance circles around what might be called the locus of control"--illustrated by the concern to devolve responsibility for certain functions to the private sector and nongovernment organizations wherever possible. He goes on to ask whether the "current fascination with governance doctrines in the Pacific is an expression of the wider confusions of late modernity." Unfortunately, he doesn't atttempt to answer to this question, because the chapter stops right there, after just seven pages--and just when it was getting interesting. However, similarly critical themes are taken up in the second chapter by Cluny Macpherson and La'avasa Macpherson, who discuss the theory, practice, and limits of good governance. While the empirical focus is largely on Samoa, especially in terms of cultural factors, the analysis and critique of some of the assumptions underlying the governance agenda provide a more general point of departure and contribute to the wider international debate.

Next, Elise Huffer and Alfred Schuster provide further detailed insights into governance as understood within Samoa. The analysis is based on extensive interview material selected from a cross section of people. One of the more interesting points to emerge from this material is the extent to which public participation is "stifled by the lack of space for dissent." Moreover, their findings indicate a lack of desire among a good many people to do much other than simply be governed by those "who know what's best for us." They find that in Samoa, the "good governance agenda" does little to enhance democracy, especially in terms of encouraging participation, which could lead to greater transparency, responsibility, and accountability. A number of the other chapters pick up on themes concerning the influence of tradition and governance in the contemporary period. The notion of fa'a Samoa in relation to civil society is discussed by Iati Iati, while Serge Tcherkézoff discusses the particular role of the matai and the changing dynamics of chiefly authority.

The chapters by Donovan Storey on urban governance in Apia, Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop on women's nongovernment organizations, Unasa L F Va'a [End Page 264] on local government, and Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano on village governance each explore various tensions and contradictions in how governance issues and agendas are pursued in specific contexts. Tuimaleali'ifano's analysis also links specifically with other critical analyses of how traditional authority is wielded in contemporary politics to the detriment of genuinely participatory processes. Aspects of this theme are further explored in Asofou So'o's discussion of civil and political liberties which...


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