Here’s the good news. While it’s not the first time Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s administration has assured us, if ever we needed reassurance about how not to be buried in debt and our ability as a nation to pay, the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, is the man of the hour.
With so much talk and fear about debt trap, Sili’s take on how Samoa is handling its growing foreign debt is reassuring. That’s of course if we are to take him seriously – which we should since he is a Cabinet Minister who is duty-bound to tell the truth.
On the face of it, he seems genuine enough. Take the story titled “Samoa’s debt levels manageable, says Sili” published on the front page of last week’s Samoa Observer for instance. Given the number of questions asked about the Government’s ability to pay our foreign debt, Sili was quite adamant.
“As Minister of Finance, I can confidently say that Samoa can afford to pay off their loans,” he said, emphatically.
“In our budget every year we have set aside funds to pay on interest on all our loans with A.D.B., World Bank and China. There is no reason why we should not be able to pay and for Samoa as well, we only borrow for the essential need, such as the economical social infrastructure that is going to help us for the social economic wellbeing of our people to try and drive our economy’s growth.”
For the uninitiated, the Government’s total foreign debt stands at $1.1 billion. That’s the official figure by the way. Some critics argue it is much, much bigger than that and they have their reasons.
From what we’ve been told so far, $416 million of it is owed to China, Samoa’s “best friend.” A lot of that debt is due to infrastructure developments that we can argue we don’t really need. Don’t ask me to explain. All you have to do is start counting the white elephants in Apia and the areas nearby, and you will know what we are talking about here. Can we say for sure whether these infrastructural developments are essential? You be the judge.
Suffice to say, these developments don’t come for free. And they are not cheap either. They will cost this country much more than the principle plus interest of the loans we are paying.
Going back to Minister Sili, he assured that funds are being set aside by the Government annually to go towards debt servicing.
“For me as Minister of Finance, where we are today, we are able to pay the debts,” he said. “What about the next 20 years? It will be the same and it would be irresponsible for us to borrow beyond our means certainly as Minister of Finance, we are keeping a close eye on the debt level.
“We’re not going to borrow money for something we don’t need, we are also keen to make sure we borrow for what we need, not what we want.”
But here is a snag, if the Government was on top of its finances, given the picture that Sili has painted, why then has it allowed something that our forefathers would not have dreamt of doing when they shed blood, sweat and tears to lay the foundation for the Samoa we have today?
Last week, the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, confirmed that eight church Ministers of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) have been charged for not filing their tax returns. He went to say they intend to charge more.
“Due to the Court’s busy schedule we cannot charge a whole lot so we have to limit it down to eight Church Ministers per week,” he said. “The law applies to everyone. The law does not wait until it is accepted by a certain group. We have given church ministers eleven months and those who continue to defy the law will face the consequences.”
They did not tax the church Ministers alofa back then. What’s more they would not have dreamt of charging the Church Ministers so that they would end up in Court.
That is not what is happening today. Which is the irony of it all. If everything was all so fine and dandy as the Minister of Finance claims, why is this Government trampling on the dreams of our forefathers by disrespecting the their wishes in relation to Church Ministers?
You see, when our forebears decided that Samoa is a nation founded on God, it obviously was something they revered, respected. What has happened since? How did we arrive where we are today?
The simple answer is this. When our forebears secured Samoa’s freedom, there was no need to tax Church Ministers because there was no debt to pay. Times change, we accept that. We also accept that developments cost money and a lot of developments have been implemented since.
And for more than 50 years after Samoa became independent, the Government did not tax church Ministers because there was no need.
But because they have created a hole they need to plug, this is why they have committed the unthinkable. Not only have they taxed a sum of money people give as alofa, they have gone as far as to change Samoa’s ao o fa’alupega. Now don’t rush over these Samoan terms. If you don’t understand, ask someone to explain what it means.
Personally, this in the Samoa that I know, and understand, has got to be the most disrespectful thing anyone could do.
Let’s see. So the Government charges Church Ministers for not filing their tax returns, what about Government corruption, abuse of power and mismanagement of public resources as has been identified time and time again?
Have a wonderful Saturday Samoa, God bless!