The government’s $894 million budget for 2016/2017 came under the microscope when Parliament convened at Tuana’imato yesterday.
Tabled by the new Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti last month, the budget called on everyone in the community to pay their fair share in contributing to the revenue needed to ensure benefits are shared equitably.
And judging from the speakers who took the floor yesterday, Sili’s first major assignment was widely embraced.
New Member of Parliament for Falease’ela and Lefaga, Toleafoa Ken Poutoa, first took the floor and applauded the budget.
Toleafoa thanked Sili for focusing on education and health, saying that this is where the future of our country lies.
He said the young people are expected to be well educated and to have access to good health as they are the future leaders of Samoa.
With $28.2 million being set aside for the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Toleafoa asked the Minister of Works Papali’i Niko Lee Hang that his constituency needs good roads.
He said two villages in his constituency Tafagamanu and Falease'ela don’t have access roads they can use to evacuate in terms of natural disasters, especially a tsunami.
“We witnessed the damage caused by the 2009 Tsunami and people of these villages have nowhere to run to because there is no emergency road to higher grounds.”
Another new member of Parliament from Aiga ile Tai, Tautaiolevao Tautala Asovale supported the Minister of Finance’s budget.
Like Toleafoa, Tautaiolevao reminded the Minister of Works that his constituency needs good access roads so that the people can access their plantations.
Tautaiolevao asked the Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr. Talalelei Tuitama, for a new hospital for Manono Tai.
He said during bad weather and tropical cyclones, it is very dangerous to travel between the islands.
Aumua Isaia Lameko, Member of Parliament for Falealili West, supported the Minister’s budget.
Aumua praised the government’s decision to prioritise education and health.
But he asked for more textbooks for both teachers and students.
He reminded the Minister of Health that his constituency needs a doctor at the district hospital.
But the support for Sili’s maiden budget was not confined to government M.P.s.
Tautua Samoa member and A’ana Alofi No. 2 M.P., Ili Setefano Taateo also strongly supported the budget. He thanked Sili for a job well done and acknowledged that it is a good budget that should benefit all Samoans.
According to the Minister of Finance, the budget can be summed up as “responsible; fair and visionary.”
“This budget is responsible. It recognizes that we have work to do to consolidate our public finances, and keeping expenditure under control is a key feature,” Sili said in his address at the time.
“It is fair. The Government has maintained a strong focus on education and health, ensuring that we continue to provide the best possible access to quality essential services across our nation.
“It is visionary because it plans for the future, The Government is determined to continue to build the enabling environment needed to support sustainable economic growth. That is why the theme of the next Strategy for the Development of Samoa will be Accelerating Sustainable Development and Creating Opportunities for All. This budget contributes through its commitment to sound and responsible economic and financial management.”
Education is a key part of the way forward and the Minister has allocated $91.2million for the sector. A sum of $71.7million from education will go towards the Ministry’s normal operations inclusive of the third and final phase of the reclassification of the Teacher’s Salary.
Compared to the 2015/2016 budget, there’s been an increase of $12.2million where the sector was only given $79.07million.
Next on the priority list is the Health sector with a slice of $86.8million representing 17.6% of total expenditure programs. From that amount $70.7million grant is provided for the national health services hospital operations.
The allocated fund is an additional $7.5million compared to the previous budget.
According to the Minister of Finance, the increase from the budget is attributed to an estimated 47.3percent rise in development programs and infrastructure projects that will commence in 2016/2017.
Moving on to Infrastructure, $28.2million is set aside for the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure. It includes $11.3million grant to the E.P.C. for VAGST payments and community service obligations.
From the $28.2million an estimate of $13million grant will go towards the Samoa Water Authority to meet community service obligations and support key investment under the European Union budget support.
Another $18.3million is for the Land and Transport Authority to support its operation.
According to the budget statement, $8.1million has been allocated to the telecommunications sector comprising $4.87million for the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and $3.2million funding for the Office of the Regulator.
The Ministry of Agriculture on the other hand gets $13.3million – a drop of $0.3million from last year’s budget. As for the Trade, Commerce and Manufacturing, $6.8million will assist the Ministry of Commerce and its operation and only $9million for the Samoa Tourism Authority.
Another $450,000 is put aside to support the Small Business Enterprise Center and $200,000 for general support to the private sector.
A provision of $14.8million tala has been provided to cover unforeseen expenditures that may arise during the course of the next fiscal year.
The budget debate continued into the evening last night.