Weight lifting an example of watered down purpose

Being a journalist can be like being a fly at a picnic

It was only earlier this week that this newspaper was lamenting Samoa’s obesity problem. And few could deny the entertainment and sense of national pride that comes when Samoa succeeds in the international sporting arena such as in our recent showing in the weightlifting category of the Pacific Games. And seeing a large business donate to a smaller community organisation, particularly an underfunded sport, is always nice to see. 

All that being said, the recent decision by the Samoa Water Authority to spend $200,000 sponsoring the Samoa Weightlifting Federation should not have happened. 

The Minister for the Samoa Water Authority, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, strongly defended the one year contract: “That initiative was approved by the Board of Directors [for S.W.A] and it is within their authority under the law. It is legal,” he said.

He continued: “It is for a good cause and as it is part of the S.W.A.’s community service".

Here the Minister is on more convincing ground; community service obligations are a foundational part of the S.W.A. 

But a kind of community service different to sporting sponsorship springs to mind here: providing secure access to fresh clean drinking water.

That mission is not quite complete. And until it is it’s difficult to make the case that the Authority has room for other forms of community service.

It is after all a Government funded enterprise with a close to monopolistic control of water provision. And it is not in good financial shape. According to its accounts for the 2018 Financial Year its accumulated losses climbed to in excess of $50 million tala, despite an operating profit of approximately $200,000. 

The issue of what to do with so many delinquent customers behind on their bills is an evergreen problem for the organisation.

That any organisation in this position would think it prudent to spend a significant amount of money on sponsorship is baffling. 

Who typically sponsors sporting teams? Mobile phone companies, alcohol companies and, before they were banned in most nations, cigarette companies.

They all have something in common: they are in extremely competitive markets in the private sector and have healthy balance sheets. 

That is not the case with the Samoa Water Authority. 

One has to ask how much its recent mission of supporting weightlifting - about which I could not find any mention in the organisation’s charter or website - detracts from its main mission of improving and extending water service. 

A local distributor, Rotu Tanks, suggests that a sum equal to the sponsorship disbursed would pay for 200 1000 litre water tanks.

The sponsorship itself is a comparatively small issue. 

But it speaks to a much broader problem in the Samoan Government which is organisations and individuals in public office being unconstrained by rules and regulations. We’ve seen questionable examples in recent weeks including particularly instructive cases of public servants choosing their own aftermarket accessories for cars  

Good governance is about anchoring an organisation to its reason for existence and limiting the ability for people no matter how senior, or groups of people as boards, to deviate from them. Government by laws, not men, as one of the oldest cliches about democracy has it. 

This does not mean we do not acknowledge the work done by the Samoa Water Authority. It scores comparatively highly on international benchmarks. 

The S.W.A. covers some 83 per cent of the nation; independent water schemes cover 15 per cent.

But that leaves a small but substantial population of 3000 people without access to clean drinking water. And a 2017 report by the World Health Organisation found that more than double that amount lacked basic sanitation at home. 

You only need to read the Sunday Samoa Observer’s Village Voice column to see week after week the heartbreaking indignities so many Samoan families suffer from not having access to clean water, 

Weight lifting, one suspects, involves far fewer than 5000 Samoans. One wonders how many of them struggle to find a glass of water after a gym session. 

What do you think, Samoa?

Have a good Saturday and God bless. 

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