The Member of Parliament for Urban West, Faumuina Wayne Fong, has called for tougher laws to control the growing number of vendors on the streets of Apia.
Faumuina also believes the time has come for the Police to charge parents, to hold them accountable for the behaviour of their children on the streets.
The Member of Parliament was responding to questions from the Samoa Observer following a story about three young children beating up a homeless man at the Bartley building in Apia.
According to Faumuina, the problem with street vendors is deteriorating. It is time for the government to get serious about addressing the issue.
“There are no laws to protect these kids and keep them off the streets late at night,” said the M.P. “Even their parents are just hanging around near the kids when they are out selling this stuff.
“Some parents say that they need quick money as the reason why their kids are out late but what they are doing is creating another problem that we are now seeing.
“We need to strengthen our laws to prevent this from deteriorating. We need to reach out to their villages to run programmes to keep the children away from trouble and the street.”
Faumuina also highlighted what he described as an illegal trend where young sellers are used by businesses to resell their goods on the streets.
He urged the Ministry of Revenue to look into the problem. He suggested that perhaps it’s time for the authorities to register the vendors so Police can keep track of them.
The M.P. said he had personally seen the young vendors causing trouble infront of McDonald’s Restaurant. He recalled that one day when he didn’t buy anything from a young vendor, the kid punched his car from the back.
“I got out to tell the kid off and the mother jumped in and I told her to discipline her child,” said Faumuina. “What that tells me is that the parents are around where these kids are and that is all the more reason for them to be charged.
“I also believe that education is not the problem but the fact that these parents are young and their mental state is not all there. Laws need to be put in place and be enforced.”
Looking ahead, Faumuina said the problem will only get worse and the impact on Samoa especially in the tourism area will be huge.
He made reference to the government’s Waterfront Project and how the young vendors will have a negative impact on it. He imagined the Waterfront being littered with young vendors night and day comparing the future of Samoa to the streets of Brazil.
“Can you imagine what will happen if this is not controlled?” asked the M.P.
“I cannot imagine the things that we have not seen on video that these kids are doing. The reality is that people see this problem everyday but don’t know what to do about it. They are depending on the Ministries who are not doing anything about it.”
Furthermore, Faumuina said most of the young vendors have adopted a quick change from vendors to being beggars.
“One kid would come up to you and say I have two more pens left and if you say you don’t want it they will quickly ask you for a dollar or two and there you see the quick change of vendors to beggars at such young age.
“It’s a serious situation that our government needs to address and the community to work together to resolve it.”
Remembering the past, the M.P. also believes that the lack of work done by pastors to conduct youth programmes and Bible studies after school is a factor.
“In our days there were people who did not have much but we didn’t have this kind of problem,” he said. “We used to have bible studies after schools and other youth programmes that keep us occupied as opposed to now children just go to school and come home do nothing…this is a big problem that will affect our country especially in the tourism sector.”
Those that have also voiced their concerns about the problem are workers at the S.N.P.F. Plaza.
A security guard at the Plaza, Fa’asalafa Masinalupe Tini described the young vendors as nuisances at their nightlife.
Fa’asalafa said the young children roam the town area from night until morning. He stressed the need of addressing the problem before its too late to deal with them.
“They used to sleep infront of Coffee Bean and we would chase them away,” he said.
“I was shocked when I saw them occasionally hanging around here with beer bottles and smoking. The youngest would be about 8 years old going up to their teenage years.
“I don’t know where they buy their bottles from or if they scab it off drunks but it’s very dangerous and they are a problem at night that people don’t see this ugly side of it.”
Fa’asalafa blames parents for the problem. Another security guard, Liki Ah Sam shared his view about the problem. He said the parents may say they are poor and the reason why their children are selling on the streets but he doesn’t believe them.
“They say they are poor but if you hear what they say to people who do not buy from them and how they sound like young prisoners,” said Mr. Ah Sam.
“I don’t believe that they are out selling because they are poor. When someone is poor they have no food for months but what I see is they are using poverty as an excuse to harass people and steal from them. These parents are breeding and training their children to be young thieves and trouble makers…in the next five years we wont be able to control this if we don’t do something today.”
Moso’oi Fa’atuuala also shared her experience with the young vendors. The mother who is a cleaner at the S.N.P.F. Plaza said everyday the vendors are always harassing people. She recalled a few weeks ago when a 10 year old was taken by police.
“That kid urinated in a plastic bag and threw it down where some adults were sitting here,” said Mrs. Fa’atuuala. “It was disgusting and if only I could catch him. The security officers chased him and when he was caught he was taken to police and saw him a few hours after.
“I don’t believe that police taking them in do anything…they just release them back to community without really disciplining them.”