Tuvalu News

Tuvalu Fonokaupule Act --
Devolving Governance to Island Communities

This page comes courtesy of the United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative & Resident Coordinator's Office for Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Tuvalu is a country of 9 remote islands whose local government legislation did not encourage the participation of island communities in local decision-making. Outer island development and the livelihoods of these people were encumbered by a very centralised system of decision-making and resource allocation. Even the locally elected island councils were perceived as simply extensions of the central governments and not representative of the will and aspirations of the island people. Hence local development efforts and attempts to strengthen and expand livelihood opportunities did not get very far and many well meaning projects were not sustained over time. In 1996, the Tuvalu Government approached UNDP to review its local government legislation and do come up with a new system of local governance which had the full support and ownership of the people and which will give them greater say in how their island is to be developed together with control over the use of resources at their disposal.

A rather ambitious participatory strategy was developed by UNDP/ESHDP in consultations with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Rural Development which consisted of a nationwide consultative process, based on informed participation by all sections of society, to genuinely seek the views and deliberated submissions from each island community. The result was the holding of the first Peoples’ Congress bringing together traditional leaders, women and youth representatives, NGOs, church leaders, politicians, business people and government. The Congress was not a "talk fest" but a structured program to provide all island representatives a solid understanding of the existing legislation and on what exactly is local governance and the many issues it entailed. All facilitation and discussions were carried out in the local language so that everyone can participate equally. The collective ideas, aspirations and submissions from the various working groups were incorporated into a draft legislation. The Congress made it very clear the existing local government act did not meet their aspirations and that a new legislation is needed immediately. A consistent issue, and one which generated the widest support, was to link the system of local governance more closely with the traditional decision-making structure. Another important resolution was to allow for the representation of women and youth at the island council level.

After the draft bill was prepared, a multisector GO/NGO teams was trained by UNDP/ESHDP to go out to each island community to discuss the draft provisions with the people. This was seen as an important process as not all resolutions could be incorporated into the new bill as some were impractical while others were simply too expensive for the government to provide the necessary institutional support needed. This island-based consultation not only provided the representatives to the Congress with an opportunity to see if their recommendations have been incorporated or not but also allowed those who did not attend the Congress to take part in the discussions.

The Fonokaupule Bill was subsequently and unanimously passed by Parliament in December 1997. It is interesting to note that there was a change of Government about midway through the process. The new government readily embraced the initiative when they took up office, gave it their full support and introduced the final bill to Parliament. Again the wider will and aspiration of the people has overcome the pettiness that often accompanies party politics in the Pacific. Significantly, the new act successfully integrates the role of the traditional decision-making structure with the elected local body and also provides representation of women and youth on the island council. The act is also more development oriented with the promotion of sustainable human development as the primary objective of local governance.

The Tuvalu exercise represents the first nation-wide participatory and learning process to be implemented in the Pacific relating to a major policy issue. It has been estimated that at least 93 % of the adult population participated in some way during the consultative process. A national project with UNDP support is now in place to train local government functionaries and council members on their respective roles and responsibilities. There is also a large training component directed at the general public so that they can better exercise their democratic rights and demand accountability from their elected representatives under the new structure.

Text by Jeff Liew
Photo Credits: ESHDP

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