Table of Contents

  • During the 1960s and 1970s, increased interest was shown by international organisations such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat in small states, and especially in small island developing states (SIDS), and the development challenges they faced during the decolonisation period. With over a third of Commonwealth member countries classified as small economies, the Secretariat is committed to the study of small states. The issue of their vulnerability, for example, was first given formal expression within the Commonwealth at the 1977 Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting in Barbados. Having noted the special characteristics of small states – in particular their reliance on trade, high dependence on capital inflows and, in some cases, lack of natural resources – ministers urged the international community to adopt a more flexible approach to their requirements and special measures to assist them. In response, the Secretariat designed a programme to assist in overcoming ‘the disadvantages of small size, isolation and scarce resources, which severely limit the capacity of such countries to achieve their development objectives or to pursue their national interests in a wider international context’.

  • In the years before it achieved independence from New Zealand in 1962, social conditions in Samoa could best be described as primitive. Education, health, housing, social security, sanitation and water supply, while a cause of concern to the colonial administration, left a lot to be desired in terms of their quality.

  • This paper is about social policy and development in Samoa. It describes the social condition of the country in the run-up to independence and over the following five decades. The purpose of the study is to examine trends in social development in the country and pinpoint the key factors and concepts that underscore them. Its aim is to help policy-makers within the country and internationally to learn from Samoa’s successes and failures so as to further improve decision-making on the social issues facing small island states.

  • Samoa (known as Western Samoa until 1990) lies between latitudes 13 and 15°south and longitudes 171 and 173°west. The country is made up of two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu, and two small islands, Apolima and Manono, together with several other uninhabited islands. In pre-European days, Samoa was a geographical and cultural expression, rather than an effective political entity; the country was under the leadership of several paramount chiefs. The late nineteenth century saw the intervention of Germany, Britain and the USA, who attempted to introduce a Western-style administration for both trade and strategic reasons. This did not last long due to ‘internal intrigue and jealousy among the representatives of the interested Powers’ (Department of Island Territories, 1954: 12). A treaty known as ‘The Final Act of the Berlin Conference on Samoa Affairs’ was signed in 1889 declaring Samoa neutral and independent under the leadership of Malietoa Laupepa as king. Following Malietoa Laupepa’s death in 1898, Samoa again became unstable and this gave the ‘great powers’ another chance to intervene.

  • In the run-up to independence in 1962 Samoa’s economy was almost totally dependent on agriculture, and particularly on subsistence agriculture. While the sector was the focus of economic strategies in terms of crop diversification, pest control and geological soil surveys, the government also prioritised other development strategies. These included the building and improvement of roads, bridges, water supplies and electric power. Most of these developments received significant funding from government budgetary allocations and external assistance.

  • Samoa was the first country in the region to gain independence, largely as a result of New Zealand’s commitment to independence and political stability. However, immediately after independence, the Samoan Government realised it faced a gigantic task. Its main concern was the rapid growth in population, with an average growth rate for the five-year period 1961–1966 of 3.8 per cent (Department of Economic Development, 1970). This was higher than in the ten-year period 1945–1956, when the growth rate was 1–2 per cent. This big increase in population placed enormous pressure on the country’s economy and created huge social welfare needs.

  • Since independence, Samoa has constantly highlighted social development as the gateway to prosperity. Hence social policy, both in past years and currently, has been designed so as to advance the living standards of the population. In pursuing this aim, the government, the international community and society as a whole have interacted in numerous ways to devise and implement policies that have proved critical to improving social standards. Such policies have targeted components of a framework that includes production, social protection, redistribution and reproduction. In essence, the state has determined which particular element deserves central attention. It is misleading not to recognise the welfare state as a significant force that has enabled Samoa to achieve improved social welfare, as presented in the preceding discussion. The state has invested heavily in social policy since independence; it is evident that if it had not done so, social indicators for Samoa would have been worse, as is the case for many of the neighbouring countries in the region (UNDP, 2007).

  • Social policy in Samoa in terms of its design and subsequent success is heavily contingent on a network of relationships between the state, society and external partners, as elaborated in the preceding chapters. Such relationships have been the subject of many studies that have attempted to determine the effective conditions for successful social policy. Over the years, four main theories evolved from the many analyses of the factors that underpin an effective social policy: the welfare state, consensual democracy, power of jurisdiction and social cohesion. This chapter presents observations and analyses of the four concepts with respect to the practice and design of social policy in Samoa.

  • Since independence, Samoa has faced few economic and environmental crises. The economic crisis of the 1970s, the two cyclones in 1990 and 1991 and the financial debt incurred by the government-owned airline, Polynesian Airlines, are the major national crises discussed in this paper with respect to responses from various institutions in the country.

  • More than four decades after gaining independence Samoa is fortunate to be in a socially satisfactory position. While the country still has a long way to go, it at least managed to secure a high international ranking, compared to some of its neighbouring island countries, in the post-independence period and following several national crises in the first half of the 1990s. It is evident from the previous discussion that the welfare state and social cohesion were the instrumental forces that contributed significantly to building resilience following the crises.

  • In the period 2006–2010, Samoa continued to make sound progress in social development, although a mixed performance in economic development was also evident. Real economic growth was 0.6 per cent in 2006 and 6.8 per cent in 2006. There was a downward trend in 2008 and 2009, when the economy shrank by 23.4 and 21.7 respectively. The economy recovered in 2010, with a real growth rate of 1.5 per cent. The significant drop in output of the agricultural and fishing sectors contributed to negative growth.