Sili Epa Tuioti is a grateful man. He is grateful to God, his family and all his supporters for entrusting him to be Fa’asaleleaga No. 1’s new Member of Parliament.
Having had to endure a nervous wait during the final count of the General Election, Sili secured the seat with six votes ahead of his main rival, Pauli Ivan Williams.
A first time candidate, Sili couldn't be happier.
And the former Secretary of Finance is looking forward to a new journey when he lines up in Parliament on Friday, where he will be sworn in with other new M.P.s.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be elected,” he said.
“I have always believed that this is the time for me to contribute to Samoa and to our district in terms of politics. I believe God has already prepared me.”
Sili, however, readily admits being reluctant to join politics. His decision to run was made after he was approached several times by his village to run.
“I have been working in government, the private sector and I thought well the next step is to make myself available to offer my help to the district first.
“I felt that for so long, Salelologa has never had a representative of its own because for a very long time Salelologa was part of Faasaleleaga #1 together with Iva and Salelavalu.
“So the last five years Gatoloai and Magele were representatives. I thought well I’m not sure why Salelologa was separated from Faasaleleaga #1 but that is all together with God’s planning to separate it.”
Sili’s faith in God kept him strong during the vote count where the lead changed hands between him and Pauli. After he was declared the winner during the preliminary count, a correction was issued handing the lead to Pauli.
But things changed when the final results were released last Friday.
And although Sili knows there are still other procedures to be completed, he is confident.
“Whatever happens, it’s really in God’s hands,” he said. “As of now, I really look at being an M.P. as a servant.”
“I have always taken the view that we need to take a longer term perspective, it’s not about now but we need to set the platform for the next five years that will allow social economic development not only in Samoa but also in Salelologa.”
Speaking of Salelologa, Sili said there is a lot to be done.
“We (Salelologa) are supposed to be the town of the big island. But people are not working the land anymore, we have children who are not going to school and so my focus is to make sure we have an educated population going forward.
“We need to motivate our people and incentivise them to develop their lands because we have so many lands but they are simply not working it.
“We also need to work with the government to fairly develop the township.”
A key part of this, according to him, is to attract big companies to set up factories to provide employment opportunities for people in the area.
“We need to make sure that whoever is in need to have a business there they need to do it now because that is the key to provide employment not just for the Salelologa people but in the Fa’asaleleaga.
“We need to have incentives to encourage those factories to set up in Salelologa because that will be good platform for providing jobs.
“We also want to make sure Salelologa get all the public services that we have here (in Upolu) so that people won’t have to come from Savai’i because it’s quite expensive.
“We centralise all the government services in Salelologa for the convenience of the Savai’i people.”
Part of his plans involve strengthening infrastructure.
“With the usual things like roads, well that is part of the government’s ongoing development process because more and more people are moving away from the coastal areas but moving inland to where they can work their plantations,” he said.
“We need to provide the infrastructure by making good roads for them so they can drive up and they can have access to power and water.
“So there’s a lot to be done. I don’t want to be over ambitious but I want to make sure that we do it well. I also don’t want to over promise the people because they will say ‘oh here is another guy that’s coming with a lot of promises’ but I really want to do some of those things.”
Away from Salelologa and Fa’asaleleaga, Sili has big plans in terms of governance.
“We need to review the public policies with regards to public finances. We have heard people talk about the external debt, the same things that Tautua Samoa always talks about, warning about bankruptcy and all of that.
“I think we need to make sure our finances match the reports. We don’t want to over stretch ourselves and we need to make sure that we have a lot more accountability and responsibility.”
When it comes to good governance, Sili said leaders must lead the way.
“It has to start from the leaders, the heads of department and flow down to the lower level. We want to make sure that the public services are able to deliver services efficiently.
“I think there’s too much overlapping and competition amongst ministries and they are always reluctant to share information, and they are very territorial.
“So think we need to look at some reform of the public service to make sure that there’s a lot more efficiency.”
He pointed to a number of projects and aid that are available to help people but this sometimes does not happen. The issue, he said, is the capacity of the public service to deliver.
“I think it’s really sad if we have to take back the money because we can’t do all those things. So it’s about making sure that the public service has the competencies.
“Obviously we need to work out our public finances, our economic planning, that we don’t have to do too many things at one point but to do things that need to be done first. Either that or maybe focus on few things, because sometimes we try to do so many things that we end up confused.”
Having been involved in the private sector, Sili stressed that they play a vital role in development.
“They (government) will never be able to provide employment for the graduates so the private sector needs to be involved,” he said.
“But for us to do that we need to provide an enabling environment for them. We need to review our policies and maybe our regulatory framework to make sure the private sector is profitable.
“We want them to grow and encourage investment both foreign and locals because that is the only way that we can provide jobs for our people.
“The government offices need to try and reduce the role of government, we don’t want a public service that’s too large.”
Sili added that there have been many cases where the public service has not performed to the level they are expected to.
“We also need to look at our level of procurement. The government’s procurement, the tenders and the contractors, because really we should be looking at the best value for every tala that the government spends whether it’s on roads, providing water and when we give out money that we give to the schools.
“So we want to make sure that is the best use for those funds. So we need to make sure that we have the processes to do these.”
In this day and age, Sili said innovation is vital. For instance, he said it’s nice to have a hospital however there is a need to be innovative and look for better ways to deliver services.
“For me the way to gauge this subject is to walk up to the outpatient and see that a lot of people waiting, especially the elderly. What’s the point of having flash facilities but people are still waiting?
“Sometimes, I think too many resources are going into writing policies and manuals but it’s a waste of money when we should be giving it to primary health.
“We don’t want our people to be sitting there for several hours to see a doctor.
“We need to make sure that with our new hospitals, we should have qualified and experienced doctors. Everyday when the ferry comes, there is always a patient that is being transferred from Savai’i to here. The question is why we are doing this?
“Surely if we don’t have the people here, we really should be looking at contracting doctors to come here because we will only know the downside of this situation when it happens to a close family member.
“So I think people need to be a lot more personal because it seems like we are losing the love and respect. We need to be a lot more personal in the way we deal with our people.”
The government also needs to address problems such crime and prison breaks.
“Obviously law and order is a problem. We need to be looking at that and ongoing problem like breaking out of prison.
“For Samoa to do well in the future, we need to make sure the security of our people from things like these.
“We also see the need for our borders to be secured in things like investment. We have to have good relationships with our development partners because they are the people that are providing the money and we are accountable. We need to make sure that everybody is accountable with responsibility.
“We want people to be responsible with particular things; they also need to be accountable of how they use those resources so there are a lot of things that need to be done.
“If given the opportunity to be involved in the position to contribute in those debate and discussions of where we are now, where do we want to be twenty years from now and how do we get from here to there, what changes do we need to make so there’s a lot of need sometimes it’s just finding tuning.
“We always need to when we write policies, do legislation, we always need to make sure that every year we need to stocktake with policies whether they are still relevant because the world and the economy is changing so fast so we make sure that we keep in touch with the changes and not fall too far behind.
“As for Samoa we need to look at our economy, our public finances because we can’t do other things unless we set other things that we have been talking about the basic things that we use and the resources that we have to keep our people healthy and happy.
“Hopefully in ten or twenty years from our young generation can look back and say,” thank God for those who were here that provided the environment to develop our skills and talent?”
Sili Epa Tuioti hails from the village of Sapulu Salelologa. The 63 year old is married to Pearl Tuioti and they have six children. He is a deacon of the Methodist Church a graduate of Rhema Bible College.