Loans for development are unavoidable.
This line usually comes from the government in response to questions about its borrowing but in Parliament yesterday, it found a new voice.
The voice was that of the Whip of the Tautua Samoa Party, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi.
The Faleata West M.P. was speaking in Parliament during the general debate of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s supplementary budget.
“Loans cannot be avoided by the government,” he said. “The same goes for (all) other governments around the world.”
In everyday life in Samoa, Leala said borrowing and buying goods on credit is not unusual.
“Back in those days, when I see that I’ll be given money to go to the shop I’ll be very happy,” he said referring to his childhood.
“But when I see that I’m given the debit book (api aitalafu), I would be really embarrassed.
“Even if I got to the shop first, I would have to wait until everyone else with cash is finished and then you are served. The shopkeeper would ask what you want and I would say I came to buy some food on credit … that’s just how life is and how we continue to live.”
Leala praised the Tautua Samoa Party for continuing to caution the government against borrowing and making the point that the country must be able “to pay back loans”.
At that point, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi cut in.
He too had a story to tell. Referring to the time he was working in Europe, Tuilaepa said he had been at his job for four weeks when he decided to buy a car for his family.
“I went there with the mentality I got from here that when you go the bank to loan $2,000, they would tell you no and that they can only approve $1,000,” said Tuilaepa.
“So I inspected the car and I told the palagi I want to borrow $5,000 considering the cost of the car. I don’t have to pay tax as I’m a diplomat whereas for the Europeans who worked there, it would cost them $15,000.
“So I said $5,000 will do but the palagi said they can give me $100,000 since my employer is investing with them too but I insisted $5,000 is enough because I don’t need that much money.
“I’m telling this story because Samoa is different from overseas.”
Tuilaepa added that it is unnecessary for the Opposition to continue to caution his government against borrowing. He said his administration is extremely prudent when it comes to the issue.
H.R.P.P. Whip and the Minister of Women, Community and Social Development, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua, took the floor to support Tuilaepa.
Tolofua reminded that the adults know how to carefully budget their money.
He said in some cases, although an old lady has the money, she would rather save it for the fa’alavelave while she sends her son to the shop to get food on credit.
Referring to Leala’s experience, Tolofua said it could be that the M.P as a young man had fancied the shopkeeper’s wife which was why he was embarrassed.
But Palusalue said even young children are ashamed to borrow.
“The Prime Minister’s comments makes it clear that he rejects our advice,” Palusalue said. Tuilaepa, however quickly intervened.
He reminded Palu that he spoke at length on Tuesday to explain the government’s financial position to clear up the misunderstanding created by Palusalue.
“Whenever you go to World Bank, the loans are approved because we have the ability (to pay back).
“I did not say I reject your advice. What I said is the government does not wait for your advice, we have guidelines that we follow.”
But Palusalue would not budge. He said the government’s reckless borrowing was hurting the country. This has resulted in poverty, he said.
Tuilaepa rubbished Palusalue’s claim, saying the leader of the Opposition Party knows nothing about poverty.