Tuilaepa is right. He said that back in 1981 when the Human Rights Protection Party came into power, the late Prime Minister, Tofilau Eti Alesana, appointed him Minister of Finance.
His job was to put in place a strategy to get Samoa out of the hole it had found itself in at the time.
Now according to Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has been a member of parliament for the last 36 years – 15 of which as prime minister – that hole was his way of explaining that the government at the time had no money at all.
In other words, it was penniless.
So that today, during an interview with the Samoa Observer on 10 January 2016, Tuilaepa warned: “We don’t want to go back to what led to the strike of 1981 when the government was broke.
“Not only the government did not have any money but there were no foreign reserves. That’s why the shelves in the shops were empty.
“We had six months where there were no cigarettes available anywhere. All we had to eat were chicken bones. So that’s what we’ve got to be very careful about.”
Now let’s wait just a second here.
What strike is he talking about now?
Is he talking about the public servants’ strike action that was deliberately engineered by the Public Service Association with the backing of the recently-established Human Rights Protection Party, which sole purpose was to cripple the public service network throughout the country, and in so doing drive the legitimately-elected government of Prime Minister Tupuola Efi, out of office?
Is he talking about how that strike action was deliberately dragged along for thirteen weeks, so that during all that time government offices including hospitals, schools, post offices, airports, wharves and whatnot, were closed to the public so that its maximum effect would, without a doubt, be sorely felt.
Come to think of it though, Tuilaepa is right about the “shelves in the shops being empty at the time, with no cigarettes available anywhere”, and with some eating just “chicken bones’ here and there, but then it seems as if he’d somehow ignored – or did he deliberately forget – to explain why the shops were empty and cigarettes were nowhere to be found.
So let’s remind him.
The reason was that there was a strike going on, all public offices were therefore closed down, and as a result, the machinery called government was not moving.
It was not functioning so that when ships bringing over the supplies arrived, they sat out there in the ocean and waited, and when they got tired of waiting, they just hauled up their anchors and went away.
It was the same with airports and post offices. With them closed down, international communication also closed down, and Samoa was therefore effectively shut away from the rest of the world.
And then the biggest blow of all landed.
It came in the form of dwindling petrol supplies so that petrol stations were now rationing their remaining stocks, and an angry public began to complain.
So was Tuilaepa around at the time? Of course he was. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have warned:
“We don’t want to go back to what led to the strike of 1981 when the government was broke.
“So that’s what we’ve got to be very careful about.”
Still, the man who prevented this country from plunging headlong into hell – or was it that hole in the ground to borrow Tuilaepa’s rather descriptive word – was the government’s Financial Secretary at the time, Alaistair Hutchison.
What he did was something akin to a miracle.
He went through his list of foreign donors who had pledged assistance for certain government projects here in Samoa, and he then started calling them up asking for help.
He explained that Samoa was running out of fuel, and he then asked that their donations be transferred to certain petrol suppliers, so that they could send their tankers over to top up their storage tanks in Samoa.
And the donors obliged.
At the time, Mr Hutchison’s office was on the waterfront overlooking the harbour; one afternoon I was in his office having an interview with him when through the window, we saw a tanker approach from the ocean.
Anyway, that was when he told me about how he did his bit in the collective effort to save the country from sinking in that hole.
Or was Mr Hutchison’s move to have those donors’ pledges diverted to petrol companies Tuilaepa’s idea?
Mr Hutchison didn’t say.
Neither did he say it was Tuilaepa’s job to put in place a strategy to get Samoa out of the hole it had found itself in at the time.
Still, contrary to what some believe, the public servants strike of 1981 was not inspired by the need to move the country forward because at the time the government was broke.
Instead, it was a political maneuver aimed at removing the existing government from office with the H.R.P.P. playing the pivotal role in getting the job done.
Now the question is: Is our government wealthy today?
Well, according to Tuilaepa and his government, it is.
And so if that is the case, then why is it that every day children draped in rags are seen out there on the streets of Apia hawking goods, instead of going to school?
The reason is simple enough. That is the only way they and their families could get fed and clothed?
Indeed, now that our government is rich, why is primary education not both compulsory and free?
Why is a child being denied the chance to strive for a future that is both rewarding and challenging?
And lastly, what about the terrible bane called corruption and the government’s inherent responsibility to remain transparent and accountable to the public?
The truth is that corruption is so endemic throughout the government today it’s frightening just thinking about it, and yet somehow it has to be addressed with the idea of plucking it out one way or another.
And that is Tuilaepa’s job.
It’s something that he has to do the sooner the better, otherwise all his achievements and the glistering buildings his administration will have built all over the place, are most likely to amount to nothing and his own legacy is bound to wallow in decay.
In the meantime, bear in mind that “all that glisters is not gold …”
*“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life has sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold
Had you been as wise as bold,
Your in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been in’scroll’d
Fare you well: your suit is cold.’
Cold, indeed, and labour lost:
Then, farewell, heat and welcome,
- William Shakespeare -
The Merchant of Venice