A timely warning from Leala

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa ,

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Concerns about the influx of a group commonly referred to as the ‘new Chinese’ are not new. They have been around for some time now and they are unlikely to go away in a hurry given the developments we are witnessing on these shores.

You see every time the issue is brought to the fore; people speaking out become easy targets for abuse and ridicule. Given the sensitivity of the matter, terms such as racism, discrimination, anti-Chinese among other less flattering terms are hurled around recklessly.  

But that’s pretty much a global trend. Indeed these concerns are not confined to Samoa. They are being expressed all over the world as people wake up to an unstoppable wave from the east that’s sweeping the globe with such force people are struggling to come to terms with it. 

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.

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 utilize 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 escalade into chaos and suffering. The riots there can teach us a very good lesson. We say this because a large number of the so-called new Chinese in Samoa would have drifted across the oceans after the problems in those countries so that today Samoa is there home.

The fact is it is difficult to deny that underneath the smiles and the friendly faces of our happy go lucky Samoans, many of them are concerned. They 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.

The point was aptly raised by Member of Parliament for Faleata West, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, who expressed grave concerns about the prospects of local business people. 

Having witnessed the gradual decline of the number of locals operating retail businesses, he has urged the government to revisit their policies to ensure local interests are prioritized and protected.

 “The truth is it’s so hard for our people to compete with the Chinese shops,” he said. “Our people used to own Supermarkets and run their own stores. But it’s so hard for them to compete with these Chinese businesses. As you can see all around Samoa, most of the supermarkets and wholesales are owned by Chinese.”

 “This is the line of the business they are all getting into. And our local shop owners cannot compete with them.”

With everything in life, there are pros and cons. Leala knows this. Which is why he insists that if the new Chinese business owners want to bring their businesses to Samoa, they should make sure they offer employment opportunities for local people.

“I’ve seen that for most of them, they bring their businesses here and bring their own workers at the same time,” said Leala. “But they should allow our people to work there. In this way, our people can have jobs and so we can benefit from it. They should take ownership and provide jobs for our people.”

Leala is absolutely correct. How many times have you been into those Chinese-owned businesses only to see Chinese workers? Where are the so-called job opportunities for our local people? 

The whole idea about attracting foreign investors to Samoa is to facilitate economic growth, stimulate business development and create more employment opportunities. The real concern is that this problem is not confined to the retail sector. We see it in the construction industry and all the other sectors these new business people are getting into. This is a recipe for disaster and it cannot be ignored. 

The government has to wake up and revisit its policies to ensure we don’t end up like Tonga and the Solomon Islands. They need to strictly monitor their foreign investment laws and close any loopholes that will end up disadvantaging our people.

The fact is we have to be realistic about what’s going on in the world today. 

It’s not just Samoa that is struggling with the Asian invasion. Which means whether we like this influx of new Chinese or not, we cannot stop it. 

What we can do is ensure we capitalise by utilising their expertise and knowledge to help advance our people’s prospects in life. 

When it comes to businesses, the Chinese have a gift for it. Whatever it is, they know how to make it work. Our people need to find out what that gift is, why it works for them and adjust it so that we can be just as successful. 

At the same time, the government has got a responsibility to protect the interests of local people. We have some wonderful laws but they are not being policed and monitored effectively. Speaking of policing and monitoring, government officials can ill afford to be bribed and corrupted into shady deals, which often and always end up hurting our people allowing foreigners to continue this invasion and domination unabated. There is a warning for us all today. 

We don’t want to be the next Tonga or Solomon Islands. 

Have a safe Wednesday Samoa, God bless! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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