Wallis and Futuna country brief
Wallis and Futuna comprises of three volcanic tropical islands and a number of tiny islets located northeast of Fiji and west of Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean. The territory is split between two island groups lying about 260 kilometres apart.
Wallis and Futuna is an Overseas Territory of France, with the President of the French Republic as its Head of State. Its constitutional status (statut) is set by a law of the French Republic (Law No. 61-814 of 29 July 1961, as amended). Power under the statute is divided among the Territorial Assembly, the Superior Administrator (Préfet) and three Circonscriptions, which incorporate the customary structures of Wallis and Futuna’s monarchies. Wallis and Futuna does not have any executive government and as such, does not enjoy the same level of autonomy in managing its own affairs as New Caledonia and French Polynesia do. Executive power is vested in the French Prefect, the Superior Administrator of the islands.
The Territorial Assembly, comprising 20 elected members, is the deliberative body for most social and economic matters. An election for membership of the Assembly was last held on 25 March 2012. The election was notable for the defeat of a number of prominent and longstanding political figures, bringing to office Vetelino Nau as President; Mikaele Kulimoetoke as Vice-President; Mireille Laufilitoga as First Secretary and Savelina Nau as Second Secretary.
The Assembly’s decisions require the Superior Administrator’s approval to become law. Michel Auboin is the current Superior Administrator (since March 2013). In the French Parliament, Wallis and Futuna is represented in the Senate by UMP Senator Robert Laufoaulu (elected during the French Senate elections in September 2008) and in the National Assembly by Socialist Deputy Albert Likuvalu.
As the representative of the French State, the Superior Administrator holds executive authority in the territory, except over issues which are traditionally the preserve of customary leaders. He controls the collectivity’s budget, administers its services, and is responsible for defence, law, customs, finance, health and education (except primary schooling, a matter conceded to the Catholic Church).
The islands’ Circonscriptions (Uvea, covering the Island of Wallis, and Alo and Sigave in Futuna) administer their own budgets and have a jurisdiction similar to that of a local council. Since each Circonscription is headed by a king, they are integrated with Wallis and Futuna’s customary and monarchical structures and deal also with religious matters and ritual. The kings receive a salary from the French Government. Their customary authority is generally respected. They can be replaced by customary means should they lose the respect and allegiance of their people. They hold authority over land ownership and use.
The largest kingdom is Uvea, whose king is referred to as Lavelua or the King of Wallis. The current King, Kapiliele Faupala, was crowned in July 2008, replacing Kulimoetoke who died in May 2007, having ruled Wallis since 1959. It was Kulimoetoke who signed a pact with France in 1961 which granted Wallis and Futuna the official status of ‘French Overseas Territory’. The current King of Sigave is Polikalepo Kolivai. Since the abdication of Petelo Vikena in 2010, there has been no incumbents in the seat of Tuiagaifo (King of Alo).
The three pillars on which Wallis and Futuna rest are Custom (empowered by monarchy), Catholic Church and the French State. There is little local sentiment in favour of independence from France.
Local economic activity is essentially limited to traditional subsistence agriculture, fishing and some livestock breeding (mainly pigs). Even so, the territory does not produce enough food to meet local demand and foodstuffs represent around one-third of its imports. Building materials are the other main import. Unemployment is the territory's most pressing economic and social problem, with only an estimated 1800 of the Territory's 15000 inhabitants in formal employment (of which more than half is in the public sector). Some revenue is provided by remittances from relatives living in New Caledonia, having migrated for work or education.
Wallis and Futuna is heavily dependent on financial support (some $140 million per annum) from France. The French Government directly funds many services (such as health, education and public service salaries) and provides a grant each year to balance the budget. In January 2002, an "economic orientation agreement" set out broad priorities for the future economic development of Wallis and Futuna. In February 2007, the Territory signed with France the latest in a series of five-year ‘Development Contracts’ (to cover 2007-2011), including funding for youth training, economic development, infrastructure projects, environmental management, improvement of social and health facilities and reinforcement of the Territory's cultural identity. An important feature of the 2007-2011 contract was the decision to upgrade the airstrip on the island of Futuna, which was completed in 2008.
In July 2011, former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, visited Wallis and Futuna to attend the 50th anniversary of its constitutional statute, in the capital Mata‘Utu.
In 1997, Australia's training assistance program was extended to Wallis and Futuna. Australia continues to provide scholarships to applicants from the Territory, as part of its $1 million per annum of Australia Awards Scholarships for students from the French Pacific Collectivities. Since 2007 the scholarships have funded 12 students from Wallis and Futuna. These Australia Awards are administered through the Australian Consulate-General in Noumea, which is accredited to Wallis and Futuna. Following Cyclone Evan in December 2012, Australia provided $50,000 in funding for emergency relief and disaster recovery in Wallis and Futuna.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Australian merchandise exports to Wallis and Futuna in 2012 totalled $3.9 million (principally prepared and preserved meat and cereal preparations).
Wallis and Futuna is a member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Island Development Fund, and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation and is an associate member of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). Wallis and Futuna participated in the preparatory meetings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). In 2006 Wallis and Futuna became a Pacific Islands Forum Observer.
The territory's other regional contacts are minimal, except with the other French entities, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. A framework agreement governing institutional relations between Wallis and Futuna and New Caledonia was signed in December 2003 in France. The agreement commits New Caledonia and France to support the economic development of Wallis and Futuna, particularly regarding access to employment, social services and health arrangements.
Australians travelling to Wallis and Futuna are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.
Updated October 2013