Budget, prosperity and Sili’s legacy project called the hardship scholarship

The man driving this country’s economy and the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, has delivered another comprehensive money plan for the Government for 2019/2020.

Guided by the theme “A shared vision for prosperity", this year’s Budget of $913.6million tabled in Parliament on Tuesday continues the Government’s verbal commitment to improve the delivery of services, infrastructure and ensure all Samoans benefit from the work they are doing. Which is great, everybody wants that from their national leaders. It is why they were elected and put there in the first place.

Today, we encourage you to take the time to read Sili’s budget statement. It was published in its entirety in yesterday’s Samoa Observer on pages 4, 5, 14 and 16. It’s important that all Samoans get this information so they can make up their minds on whether the Government has got its priorities right.

Now Sili, as we’ve come to know since his tenure as the Minister of Finance started, is very meticulous with his work when it comes to the budget. All you have to do is look at the themes from the previous budgets to know there is indeed methodology to thy madness. For instance, back in 2016/2017, the theme was “Strengthening Foundations: Building for Tomorrow". The idea was to consolidate public finances, maintain sound financial management and ensure there was continued strong focus on improving access to health and education.

In 2017/18, “Equity and Fairness” was the theme, underscoring the Government’s drive to make everyone contribute to the development of Samoa. This set the platform for what was to follow including the controversial taxing of the Head of State and the Church Ministers.

And then last year, the budget was guided by the theme “The Right Path". In Sili’s words, it highlighted the importance of obtaining the right balance between competing priorities and demands, between providing services for today’s generation while continuing to build for the longer term.

This year’s budget appears to be a continuation of what has already started. On the surface of it, it is a well-packaged money plan where everybody is getting something, which is not always easy to do when we have limited resources and money.

“In moving forward, the Government understands the need to ensure an all encompassing approach that will see the key socio-economic sectors of the economy strengthened, to continue sustaining quality of life for its citizens through a longer term planning approach,” Sili explained. “It is around this objective that the new fiscal year’s budget has been developed and will be implemented around the theme of “...a shared vision for prosperity...”

Wonderful. Prosperity is indeed a wonderful word. Who doesn’t want to be prosperous? Everybody wants to be prosperous; it is the stuff that drives people to do what they do.

The problem is that Governments aren’t always known for wanting to share this prosperity. Having a “vision” about “shared prosperity” is one thing, being committed to see that vision through is quite another.

Which means the biggest challenges for Sili and this Government will be walking the talk to ensure their so-called “shared vision for prosperity” is fulfilled.

We say this because in Samoa today, the gap between the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor is getting wider by the day. That’s because the people in a position to share this so-called prosperity  - including the Government - have been doing everything but sharing. They have been hogging it all for themselves, their friends and buddies. It’s a vicious cycle of every man for himself, where the real and only victims are the poorest people and most vulnerable members of the community. We see this in the way contracts are awarded, laws and systems are designed, and we can go on but you get our drift.

But there is good news. Buried quite deep in Sili’s budget address is an initiative that could well become the defining decision of his tenure. If implemented well, it could also become his legacy.

Looking into the future, Sili said: “The Samoa 2040 will also address the structural barriers that hinder growth and acknowledges the potential strain it might take on existing capacities and resources.

“In this regard, the seven identified key thematic areas to pave the way for a longer and more sustaining growth pattern are: enhancing digital connectivity development; raising tourist numbers and spending; greater labor mobility; boosting agriculture; resilient development; a safe and secure Samoa and effective investment in human capital.

“In line with investing into human capital, the Government of Samoa in the new fiscal year 2019/20 will look at resourcing options to establish a Hardship Scholarship Scheme with the National University of Samoa to assist students who achieve academic excellence but are hindered by the economic and financial hardships of their families.”

Now isn’t this wonderful? The reality on the ground in Samoa today is that there are far too many able-bodied young people roaming the streets doing nothing. They are hanging around the corners of shops, and congregating on the side of the road, with some of them looking like they are high and on drugs. They are a time bomb waiting to go off. And more often than not, these young people end up committing unthinkable crimes, since they have nothing else to do.

But our problems go much deeper than that. Many children who are supposed to be learning to count at primary schools are not. How do we know? It’s simple. All you need to do is drive around downtown Apia and you’ll see that despite laws to stop young kids hawking goods on the streets, it’s having a very minimal impact.

For most of these children and their families, their thinking is one of survival on a daily basis. Without education, life is bleak. Which is why a hardship scholarship — for all those poor people in Samoa who could do with a helping hand — is perhaps one of the best things we’ve heard from this Government in years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the sort of leadership we are looking for.

When the Government talks about “a shared vision for prosperity", it has got to puts its money where its mouth is. You cannot share prosperity with people who are already prosperous. That’s called being greedy.

The people who really need it are the poorest and some of the most vulnerable families in Samoa. What do you think?

Have a productive Thursday Samoa, God bless!

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