The Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, has called on the government to revisit the question of what type of businesses foreign investors should be encouraged to invest in.
Sili made the point in response to questions from the Sunday Samoan about his village of Salelologa banning the establishment of any Chinese-owned business on their customary land.
As the Member of Parliament for the constituency, Sili said he was overseas when the decision was made.
“I haven’t spoken to Salelologa about the reasons behind their decision but I suspect they are only looking out for the best interest of what they believe are pioneering business people who have been serving the village for years,” Sili said.
“These businesses started off small and they did not have a lot of money… the Chinese businesses are big companies with lots of money… so the issue is that these small shops cannot compete."
“So from what I’ve gathered, Salelologa is only interested in protecting the business on their customary lands whereas they are not touching businesses located on the government’s land.”
The Minister of Finance said the issue of foreign-owned businesses springing up in the villages is an important matter to consider for the future.
“You see if the Chinese businesses are allowed to spread out to the villages, in the next 30 years, I don’t think we will have any more Samoan-owned businesses.
“So it’s something that should be reviewed. I wonder if now is not the time to allocate designated areas for those particular businesses in the town area because everyone can access them.”
Sili said the government cannot shy away from addressing the issue because it is a threat if it’s ignored.
“I think it’s important that we have to look at this for the long run to avoid any clashes between our people and the Chinese. I think there is also a lot work to be done in talking to the Chinese about running businesses in Samoa."
“They are used to running their businesses from 6am until midnight but we’re not like that. I also believe there are issues where we can learn from the Chinese."
“So it’s very important to revisit this issue.”
Asked if he supports his village’s decision to ban Chinese businesses, Sili was coy.
“I can’t say if it’s a good move or not because it has just happened. What I can say is that we’ve known for a while now that there have been a lot of criticisms about the influx of Chinese businesses."
“There is also the question what types of businesses do we want investors- Chinese – to bring."
“My personal opinion is that the Chinese should be encouraged to establish businesses that are not being operated by our people. They can set up commercial farms and the like but they shouldn’t do the same thing as the people of Samoa because it becomes so hard for our people to compete."
“The government should really take a look at what kind of businesses foreign investors should start.”
Last month, Salelologa Village Council confirmed its decision to ban any new Chinese-owned business being set up on the village’s customary land.
Mayor of Sapulu, Tuilimu Manuele Paletasala, said the decision was supported by the entire Village Council.
“The ban only covers customary land under the guidance of the Village Council of Salelologa. But we are also mindful that a lot of the lands in Salelologa is under the government and the ban does not cover those lands,” he said.
“But within the whole village of Salelologa (‘a’ai o Salelologa), no Chinese owned business is allowed to be set up any more. We want to encourage our own Samoan people to set their businesses up in Salelologa.”
Last week, Siumu also moved to ban the establishment of foreign-owned businesses on their customary lands.
Tu’ua of the Village, Tuu’u Fa’ase’e, said the decision is part of a bid to protect the business prospects of their future generations.
Asked if he the decision is not harsh given the rising cost of living and how many Samoans are finding refuge in cheap Chinese goods, Tuu’u said it is about protecting the future of the village.
“It’s okay for the time being but in the long run and the future of our children it’s not okay,” he said.
“Our children are growing up and they are being well educated. Some of them have scholarships overseas so in the future when they come back and want to build a business of their own, where will they go?"
“If we allow foreign businesses now to be set up, our children will not be able to have access to the lands when they grow up because the foreigners have taken them all."
“So that’s why the matai and faipule of the district decided that this is the best time to put a stop to it before it becomes a problem in the future."
“Not only our children will not be able to get any space to set up their businesses but foreign businesses will take all the money."
“So what we want is for the people of not only in Siumu but the district to help each other by building their own businesses and helping each other out.”