Tourism woes, stimulus package and a plane-less Samoa Airways

Some people in the tourism industry could be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by the Government’s stimulus package announced on Tuesday.

While we agree that something at least is better than nothing in times like this, there is a lot to be said about the Government stepping up and making the necessary sacrifices at a time when they are asking everyone else to do the same.

A quick glance through the so-called stimulus package does not inspire a lot of confidence at all. Of all the sectors, the treatment of the tourism industry speaks volumes about the Government’s attitude.

 For an industry considered the mainstay of the economy, we would’ve expected the Government to put in a bit more effort in ensuring they are looked after so they could continue in the short and long term.

It’s not as if the Government was left in the dark about the woes of the industry. Even the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, himself admitted as much.

“Our tourism industry has taken a huge hit as the coronavirus comes immediately at the heels of the detrimental effects of the measles epidemic,” he said in Parliament. “The social welfare and prosperous future of any nation therefore relies heavily on the policy actions and decisions to be made by its leaders.”

Sad to say, the policy actions and decisions revealed in the stimulus package are insufficient at best and woefully inadequate at worse.

It is no longer a secret that even before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry was already millions on the back foot no thanks to the measles crisis and other factors. Estimates offered on the record placed the losses somewhere between $15million and $20million. And now with COVID19 and the majority of tourism properties in Samoa closed, it’s scary to even imagine how much that figure would be.

And yet when the Government showed its hand in terms of assistance, all they had to offer to these poor tourism businesses was a six month freeze on the payment of Samoa National Provident Fund, Accident Compensation contributions and discounted rates on water and electricity. It was a very small part of a $12.5 million package for the private sector.

For hundreds of tourism employees, the only thing that appears like real assistance is the opportunity to withdraw 20per cent of their total S.N.P.F. contribution.

But let’s be clear, that is not assistance from the Government, that is S.N.P.F. contributors’ hard-earned money. It is their contribution, their money?

So what is the Government doing? What is their assistance to these stressed out tourism operators who cannot sleep because of their mounting losses? Millions of them too? Do they not believe that Samoa needs these tourism operators to be in business to stimulate the economy, knowing the knock-on effect of the industry all the way to the boy and girl selling fans on the streets?

Keep in mind that the tourism industry is not the only industry in Samoa. Think of the export and manufacturing sector? What was announced for them? Hardly anything. Think about the small vendors, subsistent farmers, florists at the Fugalei market and just your ordinary Samoan?

If you did not have S.N.P.F., a loan at Samoa Housing Corporation or any business with the Government, how would this stimulus package apply to you? What about the rest of the business community who also pay taxes? What’s in it for them? It’s quite alarming.

Which is why the story “Samoa Airways takes off with $1million for bills” stood out like a sore thumb on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer.

Yes you read it correctly; Samoa Airways has been given $1 million tala under the stimulus package. The Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, the capital injection was to assist Samoa Airways pay its dues to local businesses. Later in the same story, the Minister of Samoa Airways, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, said the injection was necessary.

 “The airline has no money and that sum will help in paying bills, whether it's for staff wages then so be it. Whatever the urgent bills are then that will be the priority [for payments]…”

Well that’s nice, isn’t it? A national carrier without an aircraft gets $1million tala for all its troubles while everyone else gets the memo to either swim or sink? Something doesn’t add up. Please tell us we’re wrong?

Stay safe Samoa, God bless!






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