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Doctors’ overtime payments, political appointments and question of priorities

The dispute at the Ministry of Health over the Government’s decision to slash doctors’ overtime pay by up to two-thirds contains all the ingredients for another health disaster.Brewing at a time when the health of the nation has been under the microscope for all the wrong reasons, the issue demands urgent attention and action.Looking at what has been presented before us, this has all the potential to turn south very quickly. This is especially after everything during the measles epidemic where doctors, among other health workers, gave their all only to be slapped in the face with such an inconsiderate decision by the Government.As a matter of fact, it would not be surprising at all if part of the overtime payments being disputed is from the time of the measles crisis where many of these doctors and other health workers worked tirelessly to save lives.If that’s the case, this is not just a slap on the face of doctors, this is daylight robbery given the life-saving nature of their work. The worry is that we live in a country where the chronic shortage of doctors was already teetering towards a catastrophe.It is undeniable that doctors are among the most sought after professionals in Samoa and many of them see greener pastures elsewhere. Which means should the Government insist on its position on this matter, more and more doctors would continue to leave Samoa. Many of them already have.Does that matter to you and me? Of course it does.The mass exodus of health workers, doctors especially, would probably not matter to the high flying senior Government officials and the elite who could easily afford to fly off to New Zealand or wherever for medical attention.The irony is that the medical fees for many of those politicians and senior Government officials are paid for by taxes from the very people who, again, will suffer as a result of the Government’s stubborn attitude towards the medical profession.Speaking of stubbornness, the struggle between the medical profession and the Government is well documented. Most of us would recall that it wasn’t that long ago doctors working at the hospital in Samoa went on a strike over grievances in relation to working conditions and salaries.In a bid to end the strike, the Government made many promises about improving salaries among other matters.Fast-forward to now, the mere fact we are having this discussion obviously points to the simple truth that many of those promises remain broken, much of it to the detriment of the health of this nation.Let us remind again today that the Government’s focus on buildings, infrastructure and other white elephant projects mean nothing without the right people with the right skills at the right places to make it work.When it comes to the health sector, the Government has invested millions and millions of aid monies in buildings and facilities. Without doctors, those hospitals mean nothing; they become deathbeds instead, as we have seen time and time again in this country.Now the issue being disputed on the front page of Wednesday’s Samoa Observer is even more disturbing. We can live with the ongoing debate about salaries and working conditions. To keep our sanity, we can place some of that stuff in a ‘work in progress’ column, and hope for the best.But when it to it comes to overtime payments, if doctors feel “disheartened, angry and unappreciated,” they have every reason to. Overtime payments are monies the doctors and their families are entitled to.Yes it’s money they have earned and no one has the right, especially the Government, to rob them of it. It is their money and they should be paid. It’s shameful that they even have to put up a fight to get what rightfully belongs to them.Like everyone else, doctors are humans. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, chiefs in the villages and leaders in churches. They have loans to pay, mortgages so they can shelter their families, they have children to put to school, not counting the many people in their families and villages depending on them for fa’alavelaves and the like.This is why the decision to cut their overtime is insensitive. While we don’t want to keep referring to the measles crisis, if anything, it is one reason the Government should not be so quick to ignore these doctors.Unless they have a very short and selective memory?Interestingly, this issue has surfaced a week after Cabinet appointed more than a hundred Board Directors and Chairpersons where the Government has allocated millions of tala to pay them. These roles, including all those so-called Village Advisory groups, are political appointments strategically geared to ensure the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) stays in power.And here we have doctors, who are providing life-saving essential services, having to basically beg the Government to pay them what is rightfully theirs, overtime payments.Where is the justice in that? And what does this tell us about the priorities of this Government?Write and share your thoughts with us.In the meantime, stay safe and keep your families protected Samoa, God bless!   

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Street Talk

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Mixed reaction to electricity savings appeal

Malo Sola, 41, Ti’aveaIt is not fair that Electric Power Corporation will be rationing power. The E.P.C. should put more focus on solar and wind energy alternatives, but then these all depends on the Government and its plans. If power is to be rationed then we will need to be prepared for it.Fiu Filo, 49, Aufaga LepaIt will be like returning to the old times when we used oil lamps when there was no power. If this is going to happen then we need to prepare for it by purchasing flashlights and other essentials needed during a power outage. The far side of Upolu is similar to downtown Apia now because our daily lives depend on electricity.Aitu Tamala, 45, Taga SavaiiIt is all up to the Government to decide. If they say they want to switch off the power then we must follow what the Government says we should do and switch off the power. Soloa Seigafo, 32, SiumuI think we have to think about the school children. My children go to Avele College and they wake up early in order to get ready for school, so electricity is really needed to help in their preparation. It is also needed for our daily chores, but if power is to be rationed then we must prepare for it.Fa’aiuga Fiava’e, 54, SapunaoaIf power is to be rationed then it will be convenient if it was on at night and off during the day time. Power is really needed at night because it is very dangerous at night without it. We need to prepare for it by purchasing oil lamps early. However, power is needed by students, especially the ones in college, because they get off late and have many chores and studies to do.Kenese Afoa, 40, AmailePower rationing is not beneficial for people, especially for those who own businesses. It is not nice as it will also affect schools so Samoa needs to start looking at solar energy as a backup to our current power generators. 

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Letter to Editor

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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