The question of the times

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The truth is simple enough. The question being asked on the front page of your newspaper today by concerned local businesses is not an uncommon one. 

As sensitive as it sounds, the question has been asked before and will continued to be asked given the developments we are witnessing on these shores. You see it, I see it. Everyone sees what is going on. 

The concerns therefore are not new. In fact, they are not confined to these shores. The same question could be asked by the people of Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and believe it or not New Zealand and Australia to an extent.

Which pretty much point to a global trend on the struggles between local people and foreigners. Indeed these concerns are being expressed all over the world as people wake up to an unstoppable wave of foreign businesses. No matter the country; you’ll find that the issues are pretty much the same. It has everything to do with locals becoming increasingly alarmed by the influx of foreigners taking opportunities that should otherwise be reserved for them. And they have every reason to be alarmed. 

It is difficult to deny that small businesses are especially worried about those opportunities in the retail sector. They involve shops, supermarkets and small village stores that are supposed to be an avenue for our people to earn a living.

Yet they are slowly and surely being pulled from beneath their feet. The problem is that as we all know, over the years, our people have been hugely disadvantaged with the arrival of ‘new Chinese.’ They simply cannot compete.

Looking at history, some countries have reacted better than others. While some have adopted a welcoming attitude, which allows them to take advantage of the benefits and utilise the skills this influx of people have to offer, others have been less welcoming. 

In the Pacific, we don’t need to look further than Tonga, Fiji and Solomon Islands to see how such tensions can easily escalate into chaos and suffering.

The riots there can teach us a very good lesson. 

We don’t want the same to happen here.

Which is why the government needs to pay attention to what is happening. Don’t forget that these foreign businesses are established here because there is a need for them. It’s a known fact that if it weren’t for these new Asian businesses, the cost of living in this country would simply be too expensive for the poorest of the poor to afford.

Not so long ago, the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell, addressed the issue. We feel his response is worth revisiting today with the idea that cool heads and rational thinking are needed.

“I feel for those (local business) people because it’s quite obvious. It doesn’t take long for a Chinese shop to come in then (local) business goes out,” he said.

That said, the Minister assured that he would meet with the commerce sector to discuss the issue.

“The government wants to attract foreign investors to provide services and employment but at the same time we don’t want to develop an environment where local businesses or entrepreneurs just cannot compete.”

From his observation, Lautafi described Asian retailers as “ruthless in business.” 

“They are in your face suggesting things you should buy,” he said. “They are business orientated people. They make sure you will not go out of the shop without buying something and its part of their business ethics that draws people to their shops. 

“That is the philosophy that has not clicked on our people. As opposed to our shops you go inside and they look at you as if they don’t want you there.”

The Minister could not have been more accurate about this point.

So what advice would he give to local business people? 

“This is the modern world. We need to look at ways we can improve our service, presentation and make people feel welcome to the shops. 

“Service can turn one person from another shop seeing that you are happy. The other thing is profit. Chinese go for the marginal profit but if you sell thousands of those goods, your profit becomes very big but our people want to sell one thing and get that much profit from it.”

Lautafi added that the Asians are gifted business people and they have been doing this for thousands of years.

 “But our people are still learning to grow,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that our people should be disadvantaged because personally I still want to see more of our businesses up there.”

We couldn’t agree more with the Minister. 

Love them or loathe them, we know the Asians are naturally gifted with business skills and acumen. It is something they are born with. And whether we like it or not, they are here to stay. 

Just like how our people have made other countries their home.

We repeat. What we need is a conciliatory attitude, one where we can use the gifts they have to make our lot better. 

Let’s be realistic though, with everything in life, something will have to give, it will come at a cost but we must open our eyes to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits. For us and our people.

It’s not going to be easy but this is one of the challenges of our time. We have to navigate it with extreme caution and eyes wide open. What do you think?

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

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