Some time not too long ago when the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F) warned Samoa about it’s “rising debt”, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, did not hold back. His response is hard to forget.
“We have brains too,” he snapped. “We don’t have to just swallow (whatever advice) is given. We have to use our brains and make a decision that best suits our situation.”
The Prime Minister’s response was in relation to the I.M.F’s senior economist, Geoffrey Bannister, urging the government to curtail the accumulation of any more debt.
“The Samoan government has reacted appropriately to increase expenditure for recovery and reconstruction in the face of recent external shocks, including the global financial crisis, the tsunami and cyclone,” Mr. Bannister said.
“However, public debt has risen rapidly in recent years, raising risks to sustainability and leaving little fiscal space to address future disasters. It is thus necessary to begin a process of gradual fiscal consolidation, once the recovery has taken hold.”
“Fiscal consolidation” by the way refers to strategies designed to minimise debt carried by a government or a business. In other words – when you strip away all the jargon and the diplomatic speak - the I.M.F is basically telling Samoa to stop borrowing money it cannot afford to pay. Or that’s what any decent person would think anyway.
Now, today that debt is still rising. While we cannot be sure about the official figure, the number that has been tossed back and forth during political debates is $1.5billion and climbging. Some sources say it’s possibly more.
Whatever it is, Tuilaepa’s administration obviously ignored the I.M.F warning, which is not surprising of course. At the time, the Prime Minister insisted that it is not the amount of a country’s debt we should be worried about. Rather, it is a country’s ability to service the debt. He then assured that Samoa’s debt service capacity is stable, saying the country is generating more than enough revenue to sustain the debt.
The warning from Mr. Bannister was not the first time the I.M.F has warned Samoa. In 2013, I.M.F. had also cautioned the government against resorting to further “external loans.” Prior to that, the World Bank predicted that Samoa’s debt to Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P) ratio would hit the 65 per cent mark.
According to the World Bank, public debt to G.D.P. ratio has increased from 34 per cent in 2007-2008 to 62 per cent in 2012-2013, shifting from moderate to high risk of debt distress.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are very troubling indicators. We cannot help but wonder how on earth this country, which is struggling enough as it is, will be able to dig ourselves out of this hole.
To be fair to the government though, it is trying. And they certainly deserve our support for creating “innovative revenue-generating activities” to attract foreign investors. We say this because foreign investment, implemented properly using appropriate and culturally sensitive policies, can help boost the economy through the creation of employment opportunities.
This in turn brings countless other benefits for the people of the country. Think about the inflow of new capital, technology and direct contribution to Samoa’s export earnings to offset the balance of payment deficit and so forth.
But everything comes at a price.
The Citizenship Investment Act is a hefty price for our people to pay. Introduced by the government and passed by Parliament recently, the law aims to regulate citizenship by investment to foreigners who satisfy the requirements.
In the words of Prime Minister Tuilaepa, it’s a “candy” to lure investors to Samoa. Really? Since when did our citizenships become a candy?
You see, when we talk about citizenship, we are talking about the heart of Samoa. We are talking about our birthrights, our God-given inheritance. These treasures are sacred, they are not candies.
Whatever fancy language the government uses to justify this ridiculous idea, it’s hard to ignore the thought that being a Samoan can now be bought.
How did we get to this point?
Where did we go wrong?
We think we have an idea. Having graduated from the least developed country status recently, the government is finding the going extremely tough with all those “fiscal and policy challenges.” Coupled with a high budget deficit, low employment and next to none exports, what do you do?
And that’s not all. Desperate to address the government’s debt to GDP ratio, which is threatening the 65per cent mark, the government is under immense pressure to identify new ways to generate revenue.
So what do they do? Well, need we say more?
Folks, this law is not an “innovative revenue-generating activity.” This is an act of desperation by a government that has been turning a blind eye to “corrupt practises,” “mismanagement” and “abuse of public money and resources,” allowing it to run amok for so long that it is now coming back to haunt them in a major way.
Now let’s take go back to those famous words of the Prime Minister.
“We have brains too,” he said.
We don’t doubt this for one moment because we know the government is full of extremely intelligent and well-qualified individuals. As Prime Minister Tuilaepa would proudly boast, they are all big laui’a. Fantastic.
But the facts are there for all to see and they are glaringly alarming. Our land is under threat from policies driven by desperation, our prized possessions such as matai titles are losing their meaning because they are being given to any Tom, Dick and Harry who comes to Samoa dangling money, and now our citizenships can be bought.
Does this reflect the wise utilisation of such great brains leading Samoa today?
We all have different answers.
But on this Sunday, we want you to think about the future of this country. We want you to think about your children, my children and the Samoa they would inherit from us. We want to bless them and leave them with a legacy they can be proud of.
We do not want our children, their children and their children’s children to grow up to beg with an insurmountable foreign debt over their heads, where they will find themselves second-class citizens in their own country. That is a future we do not want.
We know Tuilaepa is a clever man. But perhaps it’s time he accepts advice and start to listen. Have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!