Pity the life of the poor

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

And so once again we have a highly paid high-flying government official disputing the existence of poverty in Samoa.

This time he comes in the form of the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, Lavea Iulai Lavea, who made the point during a workshop about the Sustainable Development Goals (S.D.Gs) for Members of Parliament last week. 

The S.D.Gs by the way have been embraced by Samoa. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi flew all the way to New York last year to indicate Samoa’s support to the global agenda, whereby an integral part of it is a commitment to achieve the 17 S.D.Gs in the next 15 years. 

Ironically, “Ending Poverty” is the first goal of the S.D.Gs. 

Which means that by Tuilaepa endorsing it, it must be pretty important for Samoa and quite relevant where we live.

But don’t mention anything of the sort to those government officials. Take Lavea for example.

 “Poverty is a strong word,” he said. “This is because there is no poverty in Samoa. I think we shouldn’t use such a term, instead, we should use the term hardship.”

Like his boss Tuilaepa and his other equally highly paid fellow public servants driving around in flash cars paid for by those poor taxpayers, Lavea added that, poverty is when we have homeless people on the streets and on the side of the roads.

This, he said, is not visible in Samoa.

Is that so? What do you call street vendors then? What about the beggars on the streets at all hours of the day and night? What about the people we see sleeping on the verandah of some of the shops in town now and then? Are they blinded to child slavery we see everyday?

The reality is that driving through town and some of the most populated areas in Samoa, especially in the Apia township, is a sad experience. To be honest, it is hard to ignore images of people living in near third-world country conditions flashing before your eyes.  How could you? 

At about 12.30midday, Apia’s bright sun was probably at its hottest. Yet sitting with her legs crossed centimetres from the main road was a woman who was selling talo. The only thing she had to shade her from the sun’s harmful rays was a small umbrella, just enough to cover her head. 

She was exposed to all other elements. And you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know she would’ve inhaled all the dust – and the harmful fumes from the passing vehicles. 

Anyway, it was a slow day in terms of business. For this woman who was selling talo for $20 a bundle, she told this column she had been there since the morning and by midday, she hadn’t sold anything. 

For all her effort, she didn’t have much to show for it. The look on her face said it all. She wasn’t alone.

About 10 minutes drive to Vaitele, a young boy approached the writer begging for some money. He is among a growing number of young boys and girls hawking goods at all hours of the day. Over the past few years, the number has slowly but surely increased. 

On some nights, it breaks your heart when you are about to hop in your car to go home and yet these young children are still hawking around fagusea, koko Samoa and air fresheners. 

But these stories are becoming all too common in this country.  As a matter of fact, such sad experiences have become the norm everyday on these shores. 

Why are the stories from these people important?  It’s simple really, if you want to know the truth about the state of a country’s economy; it’s best to assess it by the living standards of its ordinary citizens. 

And by that we’re talking about farmers and people like the woman who was selling talo at the market yesterday.

Their struggles mirror that of many others in this country. That is the reality.

Now getting back to Lavea and the debate about poverty and hardship in Samoa last week, a new M.P., Faumuina Wayne Fong, had apparently asked the U.N.D.P Resident Representative, Lizbeth Cullity, during the meeting to measure the state of poverty in Samoa from a scale of 1-3.

1- Means that there is no poverty, 2- There is little poverty in Samoa and 3- there is absolute poverty in Samoa.

In response, Ms. Cullity gave a 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 explained.

“I think the idea is from the recognition of being born into the tropical island with a lot of breadfruit and avocado trees; where fish (tuna fish) are just extraordinary, a place where you can have access to food such as banana, taro etc, growing in your backyards.

 “And I couldn’t agree more to that.

“But 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 positions that we have today.”

Well thank you, Ms. Cullity.

Finally there is someone with some sense of responsibility and courage to stand up to these high-flying public servants who have been blinded by power and material wealth they simply refuse to accept the truth.

Folks, no one is saying that Samoa is like sub Sahara Africa.  But the reality is that the number of people suffering from hardship as the result of the poverty of jobs, money, opportunities and food is a growing menace that if nothing is done about it, we are heading for a future nobody wants.

What do you think?

© Samoa Observer 2016

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