I enjoyed reading a letter to the editor in the Opinion column of the 6 May edition of the Samoan Observer entitled Enforcement of tax laws. The author publically raised a concern, which I also had, about government tax shortfalls.
The author questioned why, with the massive shift of purchases away from small shops which operate under the $80,000 yearly VAGST threshold towards the new local and Chinese-owned supermarkets and formally locally-owned medium-sized retail shops which are required under the law to charge VAGST, there was a 6 million tala shortfall in tax revenue? Perhaps the MOR could offer an explanation for this.
In addition, I see unmarked white vans cruising around Upolu driven by Samoan drivers with a Chinese person sitting in the passenger seat. Seems the Chinese are now in the wholesale distribution business.
One day, when visiting a friend of mine who runs a small shop, one of these unmarked vans suddenly appeared. Out came a Chinese person who asked my shopkeeper friend if he needed anything. He said he didn’t.
My friend later told me that there are three or four such vans coming around, and indeed they were wholesaling. When he makes a purchase, he is always asked whether or not he needs a receipt. He is charged VAGST only when he needs a receipt.
I asked my friend who that Chinese person was. He said he had no idea; he didn’t even know where his company was. He only knew that there were three or four vans circling around on a regular basis with some offering goods exclusive of VAGST. He didn’t even know whether all the vans belonged to the same company or whether they were all independent.
I also notice that when shopping at large Chinese-owned shops, they always give receipts. But when shopping at small and medium-sized Chinese-owned shops, many of them formally owned by locals, receipts are often not given. What is the law about receipts? Are shopkeepers over the VAGST threshold required by law to issue receipts?
And what policies are in place to distinguish which businesses fall under the VAGST threshold and which do not? Wouldn’t it be possibly that the non-issuance of receipts could possibly assist a retailer or wholesaler to stay under the threshold?
I am one of those disappointed by how many locals have sold their businesses to Chinese businessmen but accept that the prices offered by Chinese shops in many cases are cheaper than those formally offered by the Samoan owners and benefit us consumers. Reason being, they can buy directly from China at lower prices while locals buy from local wholesalers who often source from more traditional suppliers.
What does all this mean to the future of our economy? Will the Chinese to take over the whole wholesale and retail trade, putting more “moms and pops” out of business because they just can’t compete?
Then what? Are we headed for another Tonga or Tahiti or New Caledonia where locals burned down all the Chinese shops? And weren’t they also burned down in some African countries too?
The Chinese today are very different from the first wave of Chinese who were brought here to work the cocoa plantations. Most of them ended up marrying locals and blended harmoniously into the mainstream society.
But the Chinese coming in today are different. They are bringing in wives from China, continue using their own language and mingling only amongst themselves. Very few have relationships with locals except to take our money by offering us cheaper goods and then sending their hard-earned money back to China.
Where is this all headed? The P.M. may have planted the seeds which could eventually blossom into a serious social problem in the future.
I pray God this does not happen.