Real people, real issues

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It wasn’t that long ago that a senior government official denied that poverty existed in Samoa. We remember his reasons like it was just yesterday.

Listen to him again. 

“Real poverty is when you are homeless and hopeless,” he lectured us then. 

“So therefore, our people are not living in poverty. If we take a good look at the situation of the poor people in Africa, that is what we call poverty.

“We see naked homeless people on the streets looking for food and water. Do we have that here in Samoa? The answer is no.”

Alright then, fair enough. The government official is correct. Apart from children without diapers running around, there are hardly any naked people on the streets of Apia.

But then there sure are lots and lots of beggars and kids who should be in school who are basically living on the streets in Samoa today. 

Isn’t Samoa then beginning to look like Africa? 

We say this because as far as we are concerned, this government official works for the same government under which the Office of the Ombudsman, acting as the National Human Rights Institution, released a Human Rights report last year.

This report found that one in every five Samoan is living in poverty.

“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes, particularly in rural and remote areas,” the report reads. 

“Approximately 20 percent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line (B.N.P.L), with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the B.N.P.L. Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans live in poverty.”

Ladies and gentlemen, those are not our words. 

Those are words from a report sanctioned by the government that was launched by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. 

Interestingly, by denying outright the existence of poverty, the government official sounded awfully like his boss, Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

Later after launching the State of Human Rights Report for Samoa, Tuilaepa called the report writers “foolish”.

Said Tuilaepa: “That is based on palagi thinking. It’s based on ideas from Africa. It’s a foolish thought based on the idea there’s not enough food and income. That’s such foolish thinking (for Samoa).”

Well there goes that word “Africa” again? 

What is it with these guys thinking about “Africa” all the time? Isn’t Africa a continent with countless countries on it being inhabited by billions of people?

What does Africa then have to do with Samoa, a middle-income country, with less than 200,000 people? Two completely different things, don’t you think?

Now getting back to the senior government official, he reckons our people are full of excuses.

 “I think our people are depending too much on remittances and once that money is gone, that’s when they start saying that they are poor,” he said. 

“But in reality, the same people who complain about being poor are the same people that use most of their money on alcohol and bingo. 

“To them, it’s okay to spend money on alcohol [rather] than using it to buy food for the family.”

Now is this behaviour from Africa too? What does our high flying government official say about that?

Come to think of it though, don’t poor people go to the bingo because they are so desperate? Isn’t it their hope that a miracle happens while they are there so that their one tala suddenly turns into a shopping worth 50 tala? 

And don’t some people resort to alcohol to drown their sorrows and escape from the reality of being poor and living in poverty?

Is hardship not real in Samoa today? Are people coping well with the cost of living? Are families being able to look after themselves on the incomes being earned by the breadwinners? Ironically, wasn’t that Human Rights report rubbished by the Prime Minister based on facts such as the kind of money our people are making?

The reality is that as hard as they try, this government cannot deny that poverty and crippling hardship are real issues in Samoa. 

That’s why so many people are on the streets. 

They see it as a form of employment; they see it as the only way to make a living. Would they be skipping school and risking the wrath of the law if they were not so desperate?

Would the number of street vendors be growing in Samoa today if there was no poverty? Would the number of break-ins, robberies, social issues and crimes have increased if there were no poverty?

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s undeniable that as long as our government ignores unemployment, poverty will become worse. Crime will keep on breeding crime and even more crime so that peace and security are terms we might soon not be able to associate with Samoa.

Now speaking of crime, on the newspaper you are reading today, a mother has been sent to jail for stealing from her employer. We agree that there are no excuses for such crimes. 

But if there were no hardship, if people were not suffering as a result of poor incomes and opportunities, if there was no poverty, would this mother have stolen that money?

Ironically the amount is just over $12,000. In the bigger scheme of things, that’s peanuts compared to the millions abused and lost as a result of corruption and collusion that’s been allowed to go unpunished by our leaders of today.

The very leaders who quote scriptures from the Bible day after day as if God is blind to what is going on. Someone has got to account for the suffering of members of the public. Someone has to. One sweet day.

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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