The undisputed truth is this. Everywhere we turn to in this country today, it is impossible to escape the General Elections talk. It is the topic of Village Council meetings, church sermons, news bulletins and even at the work places.
And with campaign promises coming thick and fast out of the ears of the candidates, perhaps for some of us, the 4th of March 2016 just cannot come soon enough.
We say this because the poor ears have sure taken a battering from all the feel good speeches and the promises to deliver heaven and earth.
Which is nothing new of course. We’ve heard it before and the bad news is that we will continue to hear it as long as elections exist. It is the nature of the beast I guess.
What’s important for us as voters though is that we learn to separate the nonsense from the real issues so when we vote, it is a fully informed decision for the betterment of society.
To do that, we must be able to see beyond those fast moving lips, sweet talk and the wallet offering the lousy ten-tala bribe, which will get us nowhere.
In this country today, we believe there are so many issues screaming out for solutions. Such solutions will only come from genuine leaders who truly want to make a difference.
Not all politicians – and aspiring politicians for that matter - are leaders.
You see, your typical politician will only focus on the next election.
But leaders focus on the next generation. Their goal is to empower their people.
We are talking about leaders who want their followers to be better, do better.
Indeed leadership is not about keeping power, we say it is about releasing power, allowing people to flourish, live their dreams and become the best they can be.
In Samoa today, there is reason to believe that is not happening and it’s largely because most of our people have developed a culture of dependency.
It’s an aid mentality making some people wallow in poverty and want.
Back on Monday 9 March 2015*, this column touched upon the key role of remittances in the lives of Samoans. We also talked about how unfair it is that Samoans overseas are not allowed to vote from where they are, given all the technological developments that could easily make that a reality.
A few weeks away from the General Elections, we believe the topic is worth revisiting. Remittances and Samoa go hand-in-hand. The reality is that remittances are the backbone of this country’s existence. Without which, we would be in deep trouble.
Indeed, if those millions of tala sent back from relatives and friends living outside of Samoa to care for their families here were to stop suddenly, many people in this country would not be able to cope with the demands of everyday living. That’s because the cost of living has become ridiculously expensive while household incomes have not improved by much, if there has been any improvement at all during the past couple of years.
So remittances – in some cases - become a matter of life and death.
Think about this: how would many people in Samoa cope without remittances? What would life for many Samoans be like without the generosity of their families and friends in New Zealand, Australia, United States, Europe and elsewhere around the world?
It’s a tough question we know but one that’s worth asking. Mind you, these people do much more than send money. They also send new cars, fridges, TV sets, food, containers of furniture and in some cases building materials for new homes.
But it’s not that they are loaded with cash and material wealth. Absolutely not.
We, the people living in Samoa, should be mighty grateful because the reality for most of our overseas relatives is a lot different than the rosy picture of people living on the ‘land of milk and honey’ as we’ve been told over the years.
For many of them, they are struggling to get by. On top of that, they too have obligations to the countries they live in. That includes taxes owed, children to feed, clothe and schooled, bills to pay and dreams to be fulfilled.
And yet we find that they sacrifice a lot of that simply to ensure their families in Samoa don’t go without. It’s a sacrifice that should not be taken for granted. It should be properly acknowledged, appreciated and reciprocated, however, whenever possible. And we are talking about more than just saying thank you.
In the past, every time the issue is brought up; there are people who say that because these brothers and sisters live outside Samoa, they should not be entitled to anything – including the right to vote from where they are based during our elections.
It’s true that it is their choice to live overseas and perhaps by doing so forfeit the benefits of being a resident in Samoa – including voting.
But is it really their choice? Would they have shifted to these countries if Samoa offered greener pastures? We doubt it very much.
Now let’s consider the recent Citizenship Investment Bill. We don’t need to tell you about this piece of legislation anymore. What we do want to say is that part of the bill will allow any foreigner with four million tala to live in Samoa automatically.
At this point, questions are still being asked about whether that would entitle them to land privileges as well as to be able to vote in the election. What’s more, should the green light be given so that they become eligible to the privileges that come with being a citizen of Samoa, who is to stop them from running for Parliament, should a Samoan somehow decides to gift them a matai title – as they do these days?
We know the government will dismiss these fears saying nothing of the sort will happen. That’s fine. We hope so too. But do they know the future? Do they know what could happen 20 or 50 years from now? Will they still be around when our children and their children’s children begin to pay the price for what is happening today?
The answer is no. The irony is that for our people living overseas, it doesn’t matter how many thousands – or millions - of tala they send back home to Samoa. If they want to vote in the election, they would have to pay the airfares to come here to do that. This is despite the fact that through technology that’s now available here, the job can easily be done.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about Samoans born in Samoa. In many cases, they are matai who are looking after their families – frequenting the airwaves between wherever they are and Samoa every time a fa’alavelave comes up. They still serve their monotaga (contribution) in the villages. They remain part of the church in the village through their matafale to which they contribute to week in and week out.
So why is the government so stubborn that it would not move to allow what seems to be the fairest and most logical thing to do when it comes to voting?
Consider one more scenario. Under the Citizenship Investment Bill, a millionaire can basically buy citizenship in no time. And yet an overseas-based matai who wants to be a candidate in the election, who has been contributing to the development of Samoa for years, will have to come and stay in Samoa for at least three years to be able to do that?
It just does not make sense. Something needs to change and soon.
Are we wrong to feel that perhaps money has been placed above the interests and rights of our Samoan people? Will it be fair to say that four million tala by a foreigner is better than a lifetime of tautua along with the rights and privileges of being a Samoan?
This issue is among many of the real issues that should help us with our decision-making. The truth is that without the generosity of Samoans living all over the world, it’s hard to imagine what this country would be like today.
In our opinion, the government – or any government that comes in - would do very well to consider this enormous contribution and do the right thing by them.
The least we could do is make it easier for them to cast their vote.
Do you think there is a reason why the government is scared to do that?
Write and share your thoughts with us!
In the meantime, have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!
*The editorial referred to was titled “Remittances, foreigners and privileges.”