Samoa - Overview

The Constitution of Samoa provides the broad framework within which Disaster Response law operates. This is found in Part X which deals with emergency powers. This provides the Head of State with the power to proclaim a state of emergency for a period of 30 days (and for subsequent 30-day periods) in specific circumstances (including natural disasters). Such a proclamation lies within the discretion of the Head of State after consultation with the Cabinet. During such an emergency, the Head of State has extensive discretion to enact Emergency Orders as “appear to him” to be necessary for “safeguarding the interests and maintaining the welfare of the community”. The Fono (Parliament) nevertheless have the power to revoke such Emergency Orders under Article 107(2).


In practice, the disaster management framework of Samoa is based upon the current Disaster and Emergency Management Act 2007 (DEMA). The DEMA provides for the creation of a National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP), which has as its key objective the reduction of the impact of hazards upon Samoa. The plan itself must include:
• A comprehensive risk profile for all parts of Samoa;
• The implementation of measures to reduce disaster risk;
• Operational requirements for preparedness, response and recovery arrangement and the roles, responsibilities and organisation of government agencies, non-government agencies and distract or village committees in these arrangements; and
• Procedures for approving and managing international assistance sought or offered in response to any needs arising in Samoa from disasters and emergencies.


The latest NDMP (2017–2020) builds upon previous plans and, alongside the National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Management (NAP, 2017–2021), aims to mainstream disaster risk management across all sectors.


The DEMA provides for a Minister to be responsible for Disaster Management policy and a Disaster Management Office to be responsible for its implementation. These positions are key to the operation of the DEMA, although formal authority for the National Disaster Management Plan lies with the National Disaster Council, chaired by the Prime Minister (with the Minister responsible for DRM sitting as Deputy Chair – traditionally the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment (MNRE)). In practice the National Disaster Council mirrors the Cabinet. This body is responsible for approving the NDMP. In doing so, it acts according to the advice provided by the Disaster Advisory Committee (DAC). This comprises all the Chief Executives of the Central Ministries plus the CEOs or representatives of key utilities and domestic NGOs (National Council of Churches and Red Cross). Development partners, international NGOs and other significant national and international representatives sit as Associate Members.


The DAC itself operates through a series of DRR and preparedness sub-committees which implement the NDMP and provide feedback to the DAC on the issues within their remit. The committees reflect the organisation of the former Pacific Humanitarian Team clusters. In the event of a Disaster, this system is utilised through response and recovery sub-committees under the auspices of the DAC and the NDC.427 The current NDMP also formally recognises the role of village Disaster and Climate Committees (DCCs). These are coordinated through the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development who is tasked with informing the DAC of their activities. It is clear from the documentation how this coordination works.


Providing overall administration of the DRM system is the Disaster Management Office (DMO) which operates within the MNRE. This is headed by the Assistant CEO of the MNRE. This body provides the secretariat for the NDC and the DAC as well as supporting “plans and policies for disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery including the NDMP”. The DMO is also responsible for the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) which is the key response body in the event of a disaster. The NEOC is headed by the National Controller, a position that is taken by the chair of the DAC (and thus the chief executive of MNRE). The NEOC is the key coordinating mechanism during a disaster event. The DAC retains its operational role under the NEOC is such events.
Samoa is a parliamentary democracy which operates in the context of the fa’amatai system of cheifly governance. The unicameral legislature is elected by universal suffrage but only matai may be elected to the Fono Aoao Faitulafono (parliament). The constitution follows a traditional “Westminster” model whereby the Prime Minister is elected by the fono and formally appointed by the Head of State (O le Ao o le Malo). They then appoint a cabinet of 13 which is in turn formally appointed by the Head of State. In practice opposition to the government within the Fono is minimal given the nature of Samoan politics which strongly favours the majority party. Samoa has been governed by the Human Rights Protection Party since 1982 and has no official opposition (only two of the current 50 seats are held by opposition parties).


Samoa is a unitary state divided into 51 constituencies, however, the key sub-national level of government entity is the village level. Although given legislative recognition by the Village Fono Act of 1990, the detailed structure of village government is not mandated in the constitution or legislation and is a matter for each village. The only exception to this is the existence of the Village Fono (or Council) specified in the Village Fono Act, and the position of pulenuu (government representative) recognised under the Internal Affairs Act 1995. This latter position is accountable to both the Village Fono and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Governance in Samoa is therefore a combination of traditional Samoan structures (particularly at the local level) and the Western model developed under the 1962 Constitution. Given that the Village Fono have no permanent staff (although national staff can be seconded to the village level), the ability of villages to deliver their responsibilities,
which can include issues of direct relevance to Disaster Response (water supplies and public health in particular), are significantly compromised.