In Samoa today, hardship and poverty know no shame

Another independence celebration is done and dusted. 

Today we are back to the grinder, with most of us settling into work for what would be a short week.

With our special guests and visitors making their way back to their countries with great stories and memories to share, each and everyone of us will look back with fondness and remember the events of the past few days.

They were memorable times we will cherish for one reason or another.

But there is a time to play and a time to work.

And now that we have all revelled in the joy of celebrating our 57th Independence Day, there is no doubt there is much work that needs to be done.

Looking at Samoa today, it has everything to do with helping the least fortunate amongst us, and some of the most vulnerable members of this community. We are talking about those issues that no one wants to bring up. Things like hardship, child labour, poverty and those beggars on the streets.

Indeed, there are too many young children begging on the streets today, and being used as money earners when they clearly should be protected and looked after at home. We see them everywhere. You might be sitting in your car and they will knock on the window.

These people are the faces of deteriorating standards of living and increasing poverty and hardship in paradise. It’s ironic because for all the wonderful things Samoa has achieved – and we’ve achieved a lot – this unfortunately is the impression some visitors to this country will take back with them. It is that of miserable and hungry-looking children harassing them for a tala or two.

But that’s not all. Come to think of it, we’ve gone past the stage where it was just children hawking goods on the streets. Nowadays we have all sorts of people of all ages. In some cases, we have mothers and fathers hawking their children, in a desperate ploy to make some money.

Many of us would have experienced this, where a mother would be asking for some money so she can take her child to the hospital. In other cases, these parents carry their children and beg for some money, so they can catch the bus home. The list of excuses is quite impressive. And believe me, I’ve been fooled many times too. We are pretty sure many other people reading this piece have also been fooled.

But it’s a difficult one isn’t it? How do you say no to someone who appears desperate? What if in some cases these people genuinely need money?

The truth today ladies and gentlemen, is that hardship and poverty knows no shame at all. In some instances, it is why people are openly stealing. It is why some people are not afraid to commit crime. They feel that they have no other choice.

Whereas this menace called the "cost of living" continues to climb mercilessly, people’s disposable incomes are not getting any better. Many farmers are struggling to find international markets for their produce, while the local market is not big enough as not a lot of money gets spent.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Well the story on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer titled “Don’t pass the buck on minimum wage” is a good start. In the story, former Member of Parliament, Afualo Dr. Wood Salele, expressed support for a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) for the Government to raise the minimum wage.

The report released by I.M.F. last month revealed that Samoa has the lowest minimum wage in the Pacific. As a result, the I.M.F. recommended that it is time for the Government to increase the minimum wage of $2.30 tala. By the way, with $2.30 tala you can barely afford a can of elegi in Samoa.

Now Afualo is calling on the Government to stop “passing the buck to the private sector (on the issue)". Instead “they should make the decision, considering that people can no longer afford the cost of living".

“If we do not increase the minimum wage, this problem of dishonesty and inefficiency will not go away,” Afualo said.

“The report says that Samoa has the lowest minimum wage in the Pacific and to me it is a dire warning for us. It doesn’t look good for us Samoa. If you look at Kiribati — their economy is a lot smaller than us — but in terms of minimum wage we are lower than them.”

Kiribati has a minimum wage of $3.10 tala.  

With this in mind, Afualo said the Government has always denied poverty existed in Samoa, but the situation out in the villages could be different. He said what he sees right now is poverty in the sense of "income disparity".

“If you take a step out in the village, away from the infrastructure in town, and you will see a lot of people struggling,” he said. “We are struggling with inequality where the rich is getting richer while the poor is getting poorer. That is the kind of poverty we are seeing and it’s getting worse and these are a direct outcome of Government policies.”  

Afualo couldn’t have said it better.

And here is what we see: when you have a Government that has amassed unquestionable power over the years — to the point it has done everything it wants, except to increase the minimum wage — it clearly speaks of a hypocritical attitude where they only care and look after their own interests.

After all, is this not the same Government that recently approved the giving of more monies to public servants – including Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament under the guise of the “Cost of living salary adjustment (C.O.L.A.)”?

If they have adjusted their salaries — paid for by the public purse — to cushion the effects of the increase in cost of living, what about the rest of Samoa? What about some of the poorest people who are still being paid this ridiculous minimum wage?

Tell us what you think. Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

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