We’re sitting on goldmine we didn’t know we had

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Mika Kelekolio*

I see that New Zealand’s acting Prime Minister Vaovasa Winston Peters is considering re-shaping his country’s aid to the Pacific “by redefining (its) spending by partnering with others, in projects which last 50 years or more, pointing to support for a Kiribati reclamation project (as an example)”. 

What a great Idea, Winston! I can think of a number of things where our government can partner New Zealand in projects that will last well over 50 years. Projects that will not only boost our economy, but make us self-reliant and basically debt free.

All we need to do is put our strategic brains together and make suggestions to government on how we can take advantage of this opportunity. We’ve had enough of moaners foul-mouthing the government and everyone else who tries to help develop this country, without offering any constructive solution.

Let’s initiate some projects ourselves rather than wait for aid donors and foreigners to come and tell us what to do or what is good for us. One such project that I can think of involves helping our people in New Zealand who are superannuates, but don’t own private property here, to return here to live.

Right now, there are more than 40,000 Samoa-born pensioners in New Zealand. Everyone collects a universal superannuation of approximately $18,000 a year, which can be made portable should they so choose. For some, that doesn’t include other monies they receive weekly, fortnightly or as a lump sum from their employers’private superannuation schemes or the Kiwi Savers’ scheme.

Many own their own homes while others are still living in social housing provided by government, local bodies or other social agencies. 

Ask any of them whether they would like to return here to live and the answer is usually a resounding ‘yes’ often followed by a ‘but’. The ‘but’ relates to their apprehension about returning to live permanently in the village with extended families, as they just don’t want to be bothered with fa’alavelave or be pestered daily for money and other things that will cost them money.

You see, for years, these pensioners have enjoyed the privacy of their own homes with just their own children. They would like to continue to enjoy that lifestyle here. The difficulty is in finding readily available private accommodation at a reasonable rate that will not chew up all their pension – money that they have worked hard for all their lives. 

They will still visit relatives in the village and contribute financially to their fa’alavelave as well as meeting their church obligations. But, it will be on their terms.

As said in the headline of this column,we’re sitting on a goldmine that we didn’t know we had; one that could easily bring our economy $NZ200 million annually for an initial one-off investment of $ST100m.

How, you might ask? Very simple. A single pensioner in New Zealand gets about NZ$18,000 a year and couple gets about NZ$32,000.You can do the maths and see that 2000 couples and 200 singles with portable pensions will bring in more than $NZ60 million annually. Imagine the amount of money 20,000 – 30,000 pensioners will inject into our economy annually just by moving back here permanently? It will be close to $1 NZ billion a year.

And that does not include the millions of dollars their children will send over or deposit into their bank accounts to ensure they maintain the comfortable life-style they are used to. It also doesn’t include monies their children will spend when they come to visit them.

Within 3-5 years of the scheme kicking-off, enough money should come our way to pay off all our foreign debts,and build a lightrail service from Apia to the airport and Falefa to the east to help remove the congestion on our roads. 

As said earlier, thisproject will cost the government basically nothing, but the financial benefit to the country and the business community is huge. 

Currently, the Government has lots of land in Upolu and Savai’i that is lying idle. It could ring-fenced some of it into 20- to 50-acre blocks to build ‘pensioner villages’ with basic one- and two-bedroom stand-alone homes or double or multiple units. These can be rented out at say $ST100 for a single pensioner flat and $ST180 for a couple a week. There is no reason why other individuals and organisations with large chunks of unused land could not set up similar schemes and start their own (NZ) pensioners’ housing scheme. 

Taking Winston Peters’ suggestion, New Zealand could partner Samoa by tagging $NZ75 million of its 2019 aid money to build 1000 pensioner units to begin with $NZ75,000 per unit while the Samoan Government provides the land. These buildings once completed become part of our Government’s social housing scheme. Pensioners can live there until they passed away.

Samoa Land Corporation, National Providence Fund, A.C.C. and U.T.O.S. may also be interested in the scheme as an investment opportunity.

I’m absolutely sure that there will be no shortage of people wanting to move from NZ into these units once they are completed or become vacant. Strict rules must apply of course like no dependants or relatives living with them, and no sub-letting.

Other benefits to Samoa include the creation of hundreds of jobs in the building and construction industry, service and care-giver industry as well as the catering as there will be those who prefer takeaways to home cooking. 

Pensioners will also bring with them industry skills that they can pass onto our young people.

New Zealand will also benefit to a large extent. Our pensioners returning home to live out the rest of their lives means there will be less pressure on NZ’s social services, especially in the area of health and housing. Millions of dollars will also be saved from accommodation supplements, power bill supplements as well as other services targeting the elderly that they will no longer have to pay out.

So, it’s a win-win situation with Samoa benefitting the most

 

* Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and may not necessarily reflect those of this newspaper’s management.


© Samoa Observer 2016

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