The good news – if Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is to be believed – is that Samoa doesn’t owe China “billions”. Yet.
While there is no doubt that Samoa’s debt to China is growing and substantial, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has at least assured the nation the amount is nowhere near the figures that have been floating around in cyberspace and on the social media realm.
Honestly some of those figures are frightening and we’re not just talking millions. And if you are to believe them, you can understand why people are a bit edgy.
The bad news is that Prime Minister Tuilaepa has repeatedly refused to tell the people how much exactly Samoa owes to China and under what conditions.
Which begs the question, what’s the big secret? Whether it’s a hundred tala or a billion tala, the fact of the matter is that everyone will end up paying for it.
It’s not just Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s government that will pay for it; every person in this country will have to fork out for it, including generations of unborn Samoans. That much we know.
Which is why we don’t understand all this secrecy. If it’s no big deal and if there is nothing for people to worry about, what is stopping the government from being totally transparent about the debt to China?
As far as we can see, when leaders don’t walk the talk when it comes to transparency and accountability, people become skeptical. They will begin to question their leaders and they will always find a way to vent their frustrations. That includes unconventional forums, where questions that are bothering many people and yet are scared to ask, will be posed.
The facts are pretty clear. When it comes to Samoa’s relationship with China, it is undeniable that Samoa cannot survive without China’s help.
Since 1975 when the two governments signed a joint communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations, Samoa has benefited from China’s generosity to the tune of millions.
From sports facilities to drinking water projects, government buildings, education, maritime, aviation and people to people exchange and now rugby, there is not an area of society where China has not helped.
We are talking about money Samoa otherwise does not have.
Keep in mind that it’s not all one-way traffic. Samoa has been loyal to the one China policy and has been extremely supportive of China’s position on a number of international forums.
Which is normal. Besides, Samoa is not the only country doing it. Many other countries in the world – including some of the bigger economies – are also riding China’s wagon, recognising what a superpower they have become.
But know and remember this, there is no such thing as a free lunch. While some of the Chinese help comes as grants, large parts of it are loans that have to be paid. Which brings us back to the question of Samoa’s debt to China and under what conditions is this money being lent to us.
On Friday, a story titled “P.M. rubbishes claims about debt to China” published on the front page of the Samoa Observer quoted Prime Minister Tuilaepa again reassuring the nation there is nothing to worry about.
“There is no need to be concerned over the totality of the debt because it’s not important,” he said. “What is more important is the annual repayment that is how a country’s should address its debt.”
“It is stupid to look at the totality of the loan, the assumption the loans are to be paid next week. That is ridiculous. There are loans that have a grace period of 30 years and that is why it is important to distinguish the totality of the loan and the ability to pay the loan.”
“There is a huge difference. If a million is loaned and the government is given 20 or 40 years to pay that off, so what’s important is what you pay every year.”
Okay then. But here therein is the crux of the concerns. The money is a loan and it has to be repaid. Whether the grace period is 10 or a hundred years, somebody still has to pay. Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his current administration will not be around long enough to pay it.
It’s our children, their children’s children and many future generations of Samoa who will shoulder the burden. Is this really the legacy we want to pass on to them, one of debt and suffering?
Keep in mind that we have already seen examples of other nation’s in the world who have defaulted on these loans and what has become of their situations.
When we look around Samoa today, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing ever so widely. Everyday on the pages of this newspaper, there are mothers, fathers and ordinary villagers crying in their sleep because the cost of living is so ruthlessly expensive.
We see hardship, struggles and poverty in many areas of the country. And then there are those children who are begging on the streets of Samoa at all hours of the day and night? What do they tell us?
This is why it is imperative that leaders of today are transparent about what is happening now, not only in terms of the debt to China, but also the total foreign debt.
Why are our leaders, who gloat about transparency and accountability as if it is their memory verse, refusing to answer a simple question like how much the country owes?
Today, let us remind our leaders about their obligation to the truth, transparency and accountability.
They should remember that Samoa does not belong to a person or a political party. Samoa belongs to all of us – you, me and our aiga – including the thousands of Samoans residing abroad. If something happens, we are all liable.
The thing to do is simple. Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration should desist from playing these guessing games and just tell us the cold truth. That is all. Nothing less; nothing more.
What do you think?
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!