“They call it economic success, I call it a disaster” – Pei Tauiliili

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 22 February 2018, 12:00AM

There is no denying this simple fact. While life in Samoa is not exactly problem free, it must be said that it is better than most places - near and far. 

We don’t have to look far. Following the recent devastation of Cyclone Gita, when we look across to the plight of our brothers, sisters and families in the Kingdom of Tonga, we can only be grateful. 

Their suffering could have easily been ours.

But with the disaster coordination response in Samoa working extremely well, the longest many of our people went without electricity was possibly seven days. For many who have access to Samoa Water Authority, water connection was almost as quickly restored a few days later. Many people who needed help – including people who were evacuated – have already received help.

There are stories on the pages of your newspaper every day where organisations, groups and individuals have gone out to provide help where it is most needed. These and more are wonderful to see.

And today, it’s safe to say that we are blessed to be living in Samoa. Yes despite all the challenges, petty squabbles and problems here and there, we still enjoy a very peaceful existence, something many people around the world can only dream of.

Which is why we should be deeply grateful every day we wake up to smell the fresh flowers and the aroma of life. Indeed, there is plenty of life in Samoa for us to enjoy. 

We also know that we are a mighty, resilient people. That is, regardless of what challenges we face, we always do our best to appear unfazed by it, so we try to make the most of any sad situation. You only have to look at the front page of your newspaper for the past few days to see that despite living without water – and some people decent homes – they struggle through and they keep on keeping on.

But their struggles should be a timely reminder to us all that there is a lot more work to be done. It should be a reminder to Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration that out there in the villages, people are yearning for help. There is much to be done in terms of sorting out these perennial problems. 

One of them in our humble opinion is in our faces every day. We are referring to the growing number of beggars and street vendors on the streets. It doesn’t matter where we are. We could be sitting at a very flash restaurant eating the most exotic food and suddenly they pop up out of nowhere. You could be walking down the streets and they will hassle you. You might be sitting in your car and they will knock on the window.

These people are the face of deteriorating poverty and hardship in paradise. Yes poverty.

It’s ironic because for all the wonderful things Samoa has achieved – and we’ve achieved a lot – this unfortunately is the impression visitors to this country will take back with them. 

For sure, it’s nice to be praised; it’s equally wonderful to know that we are blessed but there is no doubt in this writer’s mind the leaders of this country need to pay attention.

Apart from dealing with poverty, street vendors and finding jobs for the jobless, they also need to look at sorting out serious problems such as child labour, rape, incest, drugs, abuse of women and children, thefts, robberies and so forth. 

When we peel away the top layers of life in paradise, you will find that these problems are getting worse and they demand that we pay some serious attention to them.

The question of whether poverty exists in Samoa is not new. A lot of people say that this does not exist here because we have plenty of food. Fair enough. 

Yet, if you look at the number of beggars on the streets and those street vendors, would they be out there if there was no poverty? If they had a choice – apart from getting poorer – would they be so willing to brave the elements just to sell something for a tala? 

These people don’t have a choice. They are so poor and are stuck in a rut called poverty that they are forced to do the unthinkable. 

Now think of the many families who still don’t have electricity in Samoa. Think of the families whose  plight about housing, water and food are featured on the pages of the Samoa Observer every day? 

These are real stories. They are not fake news. We are not in the business of fake news.

We’d like to think that this country has not deliberately forgotten some of the less fortunate in the community. Speaking of which, we must never forget the words of Sociologist Pei Tauili’ili Reupena who once upon a time cautioned that poverty, depression and hardships are killing people in Samoa.

Pei said far too many people are struggling to make ends meet. He estimates that about 90 per cent of families in Samoa are struggling with the cost of living, low incomes with many of them living in poverty.

“What is happening right now is the gap between the rich and poor in Samoa is getting wide,” he said. “Only between five to seven families in Samoa are enjoying this ‘economic success’. They call it economic success, I call it a disaster.”

Well, what do you think? Have a great Friday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 22 February 2018, 12:00AM

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