Poverty is not a new issue in Samoa. For some time now, it has been a controversial topic, with views differing on whether it exists or not.
During a workshop about the Sustainable Development Goals for Members of Parliament on Thursday, poverty was again on the agenda. That’s because of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that shape the Development Agenda for the next 15 years; Ending Poverty is the first goal.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, Lavea Iulai Lavea, presented a paper about the topic, stating that there is no poverty in Samoa.
“Poverty is a strong word,” he said. “This is because there is no poverty in Samoa. I think we shouldn’t use such the term, instead, we should use the term hardship.”
Lavea added that, poverty is when we have homeless people on the streets and on the sides of the roads, which is not visible in Samoa.
For new Member of Parliament, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, he believes poverty is a controversial topic because the definition varies from country to country.
Another new M.P., Faumuina Wayne Fong, asked the U.N.D.P Resident Representative, Lizbeth Cullity to measure the state of poverty in Samoa from a scale of 1-3.
“1- Means that there is no poverty in Samoa, 2- There is little poverty in Samoa and 3- there is absolute poverty in Samoa.”
Ms. Cullity responded with 2.
“I would say that when your P.M and other officials talk about poverty, I think they are interpreting the lavishness that you have here in Samoa,” she said.
“I think the idea is from the recognition of being born into the tropical island with a lot of breadfruit and avocado tree; where fish (tuna fish) are just extraordinary.
“A place where you can have access to food such as banana, taro and etc, growing in your back-yards.”
She believes that recognising such blessings is why most officials are denying claims that poverty does exist in Samoa.
“And I couldn’t agree more to that,” she said.
“But at the same time, with people depending on the natural environment and lands, we also have climate change and natural disaster. I think you should also look at recognising that there are people who suffer in this country and are suffering.
“I think it’s important to recognise that there are people out there living with a lot less than what we have as a group of professional people who are fortunate to get the positions that we have today. “So I hope that as new M.P’s you will be able to bring it up to a No.1.”
Another first time M.P Tofa Li’o Foleni, asked which is the best word to describe people who cannot afford electricity and basic necessities such as water and food.
“Isn’t that poverty?” Tofa asked. “Because there are people out there who cannot afford to pay their bills.”
But Lavea disagreed.
He said such scenario is not a result of poverty.
“That’s what happens if they don’t budget their money wisely. That’s what happen when they prioritize other things instead of paying the bills first.”
The session was organised by U.N Women and U.N.D.P, in partnership with the Office of the Clerk and Legislative Assembly (O.C.LA) and other government Ministries, focusing on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
It was part of a three-day induction programme prepared by O.C.L.A aimed at easing the M.Ps into their new roles.
The programme included eight different presentations on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by 193 Members States in September 2015.
Three U.N Agencies - namely the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P), U.N Women and the International Labour Organization (I.L.O) – facilitated thematic sessions on issues such as gender equality, women’s empowerment, inclusive growth and work opportunities.
“The 2030 Agenda is broad and calls for a whole-of-government, whole-of-society strategy. The U.N System needs to engage with Parliamentarians and Government Ministries but also with partners of all levels to make the new development agenda a reality,” Ms. Cullity said.