A rural electrification program and sharing in Samoa’s wealth

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Alexander Rheeney

Just four weeks into the new year and 2019 already has the hallmarks of another busy 12 months ahead – if events in recent weeks are any indication.

The Government set the agenda in renewable energy in the last fortnight – in Samoa’s strive to become 100 per cent reliant on clean energy 2025 – by commissioning multimillion tala hydro plants on Upolu and Savai’i.

Kudos to the Electric Power Corporation (EPC) Chief Executive Officer, Tologata Tile Tuimaleali’ifano, and his team for the work behind-the-scenes and taking time last Friday to explain the intricacies of the country’s electricity system to our reporter.

There were concerns last year that the EPC was subject to unfair criticism, following the power outage in Apia, that lasted a couple of hours. But members of the public including your newspaper know the heights the Corporation can reach, in terms of ticking off those key performance indicators, so there are high expectations of the service that you provide 24/7 365 days and everyone is grateful.

Following the recent launching of the two hydro power plants and excess output that will be added to the grid – when the two plants are operational – it is time to revisit plans for a rural-electrification program to roll out services to Samoan families, who are off-grid and currently don’t have access to any form of electricity. It is only fair that all citizens share in the wealth of this nation, and 24/7 access to electricity should be at the top of the list.

Your newspaper has in recent years covered the plight of impoverished Samoan families in its weekly Village Voice column, and the lack of electricity is a major impediment that they have continued to highlight time and time again.

Sometimes they relied on kind neighbours and relatives, who were happy to run an extension cord. But most times, it would be impossible for their homes to be connected to the grid, due to the structural vulnerability of their homes, and the danger that it could pose to the families. 

Perhaps it is time for the narrative on poverty in Samoa to move to the next level, where the Government can fund the building of low-cost housing for impoverished families, which can then enable them to access basic services such as water and electricity.

With Samoa’s appalling $2.30 tala minimum wage rate now the subject of much discussion, and the Government – through the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (MCIL) – in the process of reviewing the Labour and Employment Relations Act, perhaps it is time to put all aspects of Samoa’s wealth distribution systems under the microscope for review.

Assistant chief executive officer for the Ministry, Niuafolau Helen Uiese, said under the review, one recommendation has been to look at wages more frequently.

“There is work to include a provision in Labour and Employment Relations Act to review the minimum wage every one, two or maybe every three years,” she said.

Consultation begin this week with the Samoa National Tripartite Forum, and will be the first step towards addressing the viability of increasing the minimum wage.

A lot has been said on the issue in recent days and we can only hope that this process will plot a way forward – not only for the working class – but others who have been knocking on the doors of potential employers for so many years. 

We note too the appeal by the Samoa First Union to the Government for a survey to be done to get feedback from the country’s workforce, and the position of the Samoa Hotel Association for inclusive consultations on the issue of minimum wage.

President of the Samoa Hotel’s Association, Tupa’i Saleimoa Va’ai, said intense and inclusive consultations are absolutely the best way forward.

“The private sector is the driving force in the economy, and we trust the government will listen to us as to how we can afford it.

“The private sector as well, we are willing to consider anything so long as there are other measures put into place to ensure that businesses continue to be competitive enough,” he said.

We support the call by Tupa’i for inclusive consultation on the issue, and remind everyone that no one should be left behind, in the push by the various stakeholders to share the wealth of this nation. 

What do you think? Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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