Finally an admission that poverty exists

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The fact is this. Samoa is not the only country grappling with the question of whether poverty exists among the population. It’s a common question throughout the world – including the developed, medium developed and under developed countries. 

Which is understandable. We live in a time defined by two extremes. 

While we have a class of people who continue to become wealthier by the day so that they are filthy rich, there is another group of people who are becoming poorer by the hour. Their prospects in life are not very promising so all they can do is dream, work and hope. 

The problem is the second group is growing ever so quickly due to a number of factors – including decisions made by the rich so they can continue to stay rich.

So when it comes to the question of whether poverty exists, it’s a global challenge – far more obvious in some places than others. 

But it exists everywhere and regardless of what the government would have us believe, we know it also exists in Samoa. And growing. More about that a little bit later.

Subsequently, a glance at New Zealand today provides us with an interesting perspective. We Samoans have always referred to Aotearoa as the “land of milk and honey” and to an extent it is true for some people. 

You wouldn’t think that poverty exists there though? 

Well it does. Just yesterday, the Labour and the Greens Party urged that country’s government to accept a challenge set by Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft to cut child poverty by 10 percent by the end of next year.

“The level of child poverty in New Zealand is shocking and inexcusable,” said Labour leader Andrew Little. “Eight years on, Key is reduced to arguing against child poverty measures rather than just getting on with helping children in need.”

It’s not just poverty though, the housing crisis in Auckland is well known, affecting many of our people who migrated there. They have had to resort to sleeping in garages and vehicles to get by.

Of course government attitudes towards the issue are pretty similar across the board. Prime Minister To’osavili John Key for instance has refused to back the Children’s Commissioner’s call to measure child poverty. 

What’s more he has come under fire for saying something along the lines of ‘it’s easier to count rodents than kids living in poverty,’ dismissing the claims of children living in poverty as “airy-fairy”.

Perhaps To’osavili might have had few too many coffees with his Samoan colleague Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi at those international meetings they attend because the rodents comment sounds like something Tuilaepa would say.

Sometime last year, Samoa’s first state of Human Rights Report compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution (N.H.R.I) of Samoa, found that one in every five Samoan live 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 said. “Approximately 20 per cent 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.”

But Tuilaepa was quick to dismiss the report, denying the existence of poverty in Samoa.

“It’s a foolish thought based on the idea there’s not enough food and income. That’s such foolish thinking (for Samoa),” he said. According to the Prime Minister, poverty is defined as someone who is so poor they walk around without clothes.

“Have you seen someone like that in Samoa? If the answer is no, then there is no-one living in poverty in Samoa. There is no-one walking around on the road naked. 

“I have never heard about anyone in Samoa who has died because they have become so skinny from the lack of food.”

Well that’s what he said then. 

The problem with a person’s conscience is that even if you are a politician, there is always a time of day when you look at yourself in the mirror and those heart strings will pull at you, especially when you see more and more people desperate people – including innocent children - begging on the streets of Apia. 

If there is no poverty in Samoa, why are there so many poor and desperate people resorting to a life of begging? 

Why are young children sleeping at the McDonald’s drive thru at night when they should be resting in the safety of their homes? 

What about the ordinary citizens of this country in the Village Voice section of this newspaper who decry the absence of income generating opportunities that ultimately result in the lack of food and basic needs?

Interestingly, fast-forward to today, the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Group has appointed a committee of experts to define poverty in Pacific terms. Prime Minister Tuilaepa – who has insisted all along that there is no poverty in Samoa - was among the leaders who created the Committee.

 “The current formula measures poverty in countries like Africa,” he said. 

“I had asked the head of Bureau Statistics about the formula used and he said the formula is used to measure the average poverty in the world which is if one person does not have $400 a week it means they are poor.”

Calling the formula “stupid” – as he would – Tuilaepa said there is clearly a need for a definition of poverty that fits the Pacific context. 

This is a positive development, if this writer’s opinion is sought. Firstly, it is an admission finally by Pacific leaders – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa – that poverty exists. Secondly, if the statisticians don’t doctor the numbers in the end, the figures will only show the grim reality and that is so many of our people have been wallowing in poverty for so long while their leaders have only been pretending to pay lip service to their plight. 

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a productive Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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