Legitimate concerns call for better monitoring of laws

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

There is no doubt that the concerns expressed by businesswoman, Moe Lei Sam, about the future of businesses in Samoa are legitimate and well meaning. 

In speaking out on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer about the influx of foreigners taking over the retail industry and forcing locals out of business, Ms. Lei Sam voiced what many Samoans are thinking but are perhaps too scared to say.

In which case, we applaud Ms. Lei Sam for having the courage to speak her mind. It is not easy being seen as that person who questions the status quo.

However, when the greater good of a people is at stake, we need courageous men and women to be that voice. 

Having said that, it’s important we view the issue from a rational perspective.

We say this because elsewhere in the world near and far, such views have contributed to resentment towards foreigners and have resulted in riots and deadly protests.

We don’t want that in Samoa. 

We’d like to think that we are a progressive nation that solves issues through mutual respect and dialogue. In other words, what we want is an amicable solution where everyone wins. It’s not easy to achieve but it s possible. 

In saying that, it’s important to remember we don’t operate in a vacuum – just as all other countries around the world. That’s to say the issue we are grabbling with today is not confined to Samoa. 

Indeed, when it comes to foreigners taking over local businesses, especially Asians, most countries are struggling with it. It’s happening in New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa is no exception. 

It’s perhaps the undeniable reality in the modern world, one where countries need foreign investors to generate business, create employment opportunities and stimulate the economy. In Samoa we have to accept that.

Now, Ms. Lei Sam’s concerns are quite clear. 

With the influx of foreign-owned businesses springing up all across the country, she said the number of retail businesses run by locals is dwindling at such an alarming rate.

And she blames the government. She said the government is encouraging foreign investment in the name of competition and development but Samoans simply do not have the monetary resources to compete with the new wave of Asian investors. 

She pointed to numerous small shops that have shut their doors permanently because they simply cannot compete. She has a point. 

As a village-based community, those small retail stores are symbolic. They represent the income-earning ability of a family, small as it may be. It is their bread and butter, and possibly the lifeblood of several people in that family. 

And now that many of them have been shut, what else is there for them?

It’s a tough situation for many of them.

The problem, from what we can see, is that the Foreign Investment Act is not being enforced properly, especially in relation to retail stores. It’s a given that the small business owner in the village selling a few cans of mackerel simply cannot compete with the new wave of business people.

And that’s where the Foreign Investment Act comes in. The Act exists to protect small businesses, especially in the retail sector. As a matter of fact, the Act doesn’t just exist to protect local retailers; it’s about encouraging them to develop their businesses. It’s about giving them opportunities to grow and do well.

Looking across the board today, that is not happening. 

Which is why we couldn’t agree more with Lei Sam’s concerns. 

It would certainly be interesting to hear what the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour has to say about this. They have a big responsibility in monitoring this law. 

Here is the issue; if foreigners are getting into an industry they are not supposed to, it means there is a loophole somewhere being exploited by these people which must be plugged right away. 

And that’s not the only issue; we also notice that some of these stores are spreading out across the country quite rapidly. How is this allowed? Is it legal? 

Don’t take us wrongly; we are not against foreign investors. 

Samoa needs them. Badly. 

But if these investors are to come, they must be encouraged to look at other sectors to invest in, like fishing, tourism, hotel developments and the multi-million-tala industries our poor people don’t have the money for. 

The reality is that our people cannot compete with many of these investors. Not only that, it is a given that many of them will always try to find a way to bend the law to suit their needs – as we are already seeing. 

What’s more, these foreigners know how desperate and how poor our people are. They will exploit this to suit their needs. They are doing it all over the world and Samoa will not stand a chance unless we wake up. 

This government must get off its laurels and do something to stop this before it’s too late.

There are two issues here. First the Immigration Department must tighten the rules in allowing these foreigners into Samoa. 

Secondly, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour must be on its toes to monitor the law. What’s the point of having a law that is not monitored?

We repeat; we are not anti-foreigners and Asians but Samoan people are not stupid either that they will just stand around and let others take what rightfully belongs to them. What do you think? 

Write and share your thoughts with us!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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