Giving selflessly as a leader in a crisis

These are challenging times for Samoa as the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic wreaks havoc with economies around the world, impacting our tourism industry to force the laying off of hundreds of workers, slowly shut the door on our export markets, and lead to the temporary closure of local businesses as well as the introduction of restricted trading hours.

Consequently, there are families throughout the length and breadth of Samoa, who have had their livelihoods, including paid employment and the selling of fresh produce, pulled like a mat from under their feet. 

Three months ago, families were in recovery mode and picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives, following a tragic measles epidemic that claimed over 80 lives under four months. 

No one heard of COVID-19 until late December and early January, when we were all looking forward to getting our lives back on track to usher in a new year. And in the fourth month of 2020, we are back in a statement of emergency (S.O.E.), just three months after the last one for the measles outbreak was lifted.

It is why the sentiments of the former Member of Parliament and businessman, Leanapapa Laki Anderson, will make sense to a lot of people, for Samoa’s leaders, including Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to make sacrifices.

Leanapapa, who runs a bus company, told Samoa Observer in its April 2, 2020 edition of how his business has lost income due to the S.O.E. and the subsequent lockdown.

"I watched him (Tuilaepa) on television,” Leanapapa said. “He keeps telling us to make a sacrifice. Now that pains me because I’ve lost a lot of income as a bus company owner since the Government banned all the buses. That is my sacrifice. What about him?

"We don’t have any side jobs and any other means of making money unlike Tuilaepa who knows he is going to get paid regardless.”

The challenge by the former M.P. highlights the need for the Government to consider cost-cutting measures, as part of its rescue package to stabilise the economy, which could include a salary sacrifice by all senior public officials.

The last time the Samoa Observer published figures of Government leaders’ salaries was in September 2017, with the wages bill of the top bracket of public officials at that time, costing taxpayers a total of $9.22 million tala. 

It has been over two years since the publication of these figures, and we would expect the Government’s salary expenditure to increase and take a large chunk of the total annual budget today.

And while the Government’s annual budget is a couple of months away from being handed down in the Parliament, the power is in the hands of our leaders to consider salary sacrifices, as a gesture to show the people that we are all in this together.

Samoa’s various churches – led by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Methodist Church, Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, and the Samoa Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church and their congregations – rose to the occasion during the measles epidemic late last year and early 2020, and selflessly gave over $566,687 tala in hard cash to the Government’s measles recovery effort.

And around the world, there are examples of chief executive officers voluntarily accepting salary cuts in these unprecedented times. Not only to show that it is a humane thing to do, but as their contribution towards ensuring their companies stay afloat and is able to weather-the-storm brought on by the global pandemic.

The high benchmark set by the local churches and their congregations, of giving selflessly during the measles outbreak despite the personal struggles of individual families, now puts the spotlight on our leaders and the Government.

Can our leaders do the honorable thing and take a salary cut to show the people that they truly care and to demonstrate that we are all in this together?

The implementation of the S.O.E. has translated to shorter working hours for the civil service from 9am to 2pm. Should their weekly salaries reflect the ‘five hours’ work that they put in from Monday to Friday?

The reduced working hours also justifies the need for a review of all officers’ roles and responsibilities, and the streamlining and retaining of those officers in core Government functions. 

What about the assorted public servants’ allowances as well as fees paid to Government board directors and chairs, who are not employees of the organisation but are recipients of $18,500 (director’s fee) and $22,500 (chair’s fee) annually in compensation? 

Not forgetting the Accident Compensation Corporation (A.C.C.) which has over the years collected levies from employers (1 per cent), employees (1 per cent) and fuel distributors (5 sene per gallon) and often comes under scrutiny for not giving back to the community.

And if there is a stimulus package being framed by the Government, we hope it would factor in a basic weekly living allowance, for vulnerable families who lack any form of income generation opportunities.  

It is in times like this that we are reminded of a famous quote by former U.S. vice president Hubert Humphrey, on how a government treats the society’s most vulnerable: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

Stay safe Samoa and remember to wash your hands, maintain social distancing, and adhere to the S.O.E. orders.

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