Tokelau’s Traditional and Elected Representatives Must Steer the Ship of State

The Ulu o Tokelau, Hon Siopili Perez, in response to recent public statements by commentators including two Apia-based senior officials under suspension pending an investigation, reminds interested parties about the relationship between New Zealand (NZ) and Tokelau and how, through that relationship, Tokelau is developing its own self-governance model.

“Tokelau has been a territory of NZ since 1926,” stated Mr Perez.

“A status, under the United Nations (UN) Charter regarding decolonisation in which NZ is obligated to develop Tokelau to the extent where it can decide for itself the kind of political status it can have.

“The standard UN governance options available are Integration, Independence, and Self-Government in Free Association – the last being the model the Cook Islands and Niue opted for in 1965 and 1974 respectively.”

Continued Mr Perez, “In the 2016 Tokelau census there were 1499 resident people – a rather small society. More importantly, there are three atolls or practically speaking, three villages which for centuries looked after themselves. Thus we are developing a governance model with the three villages as the foundation – NZ understands that now.

“About 50 years ago our leaders communicated with NZ through translators. Moreover, our leaders were not exposed, as we are now, to the outside world. The boat used to come to Tokelau from Samoa once every three months.

“Now, the new boat ‘Mataliki’, comes to Tokelau more or less every two weeks and it is much more comfortable compared to those days. Now the boat takes 24 hours to travel to the first atoll compared to the two-to-three days in the past” he said.

“Given this background, Tokelau aims to work in partnership with NZ as we become more familiar through a better understanding of the world. An understanding that has improved with our ability to communicate in English making dialogue with NZ more robust at times. But as in our traditional and family oriented style of governance, every now and then, we disagree on priorities. In essence it means that from a traditional standpoint we are trying as best as we can to master all the requirements of modern governance. And in the Tokelau context this is best done through the ‘learning by doing’ approach.

“Our present challenges and investigation are very much linked to Tokelau government’s key need for core advisors to become atoll based.”

He concluded by emphasizing, “There is one principle of governance that I will insist upon: ‘Leaders will govern and decide on policy; while public servants give advice’. In some cases, their advice is not accepted.

“However, it is of paramount importance that traditional and elected leaders must ensure that if for whatever reason, whether it is inexperience or other reasons, that Tokelau does not end up with a public service holding most of Tokelau’s modern skills and largely steering the Ship of State. This is why an ongoing and constructive dialogue with New Zealand is important.” 

For more information contact: Mr Aukusitino Vitale, Advisor to Ulu | Ph: +68520822 | Mob: +685 7703375 | Email: