Demonstrating leadership by taking a pay cut

We are living in unprecedented times with the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic disrupting the global economy in the last three months to already impact lives in Samoa.

Our tourism industry was already under siege towards the end of last year during the measles epidemic with the onset of COVID-19 this year becoming the last nail in the coffin, as the global ban on international travel suffocated the sector, resulting in the laying off of hundreds of workers in recent weeks.

Other businesses in Samoa have followed suit and laid off non-essential staff or closed temporarily due to the lack of business, brought on by a Government-declared state of emergency (S.O.E.) to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19.

Samoans from all walks of life have told stories of their daily challenges without a paid job or the loss of income brought on by the S.O.E. lockdown. Among them is fisherman Alesana Tauese, whose weekly revenue got cut when the Government decided last week to ban the Sunday market as part of amended S.O.E. orders.

Ropati Sulupo, who worked for a Frankie supermarket outlet until he was recently laid off, was among villagers from Faleasiu selling breadfruit, coconut, taro leaves and tauaga on roadside stalls last Saturday. Unsure if he’ll get his old job back, he is just thankful his vegetable sale has generated income for his family.

Teja Christian Ulberg was an activity guide at the Taumeasina Island Resort until he was laid off over a fortnight ago, along with hundreds of other tourism industry workers, who lost their jobs due to the global economic downturn brought on by COVID-19.

The not-for-profit organisation Samoa Victim Support Group (S.V.S.G.) has reported recent cases of families going without food after fathers were laid off from work, as well as increases in incidences of violence due to the lack of income.

Early this month former Member of Parliament, Leanapapa Lucky Anderson, challenged Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to walk the talk when making sacrifices, and made reference to the losses his private bus company has made since the declaration of the S.O.E. last month.

“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.”

A week after the call by the ex-MP and local businessman, the Government unveiled a T$12.5 million stimulus package for the private sector, which included quarterly registration fee waivers for public bus operators such as Leanapapa.

Seven days after the bringing down of the Samoa Government’s supplementary budget and COVID-19 relief package, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that her and other top New Zealand government officials are taking a 20 per cent pay cut during the global pandemic.

According to Stuff, the pay cut will apply to all New Zealand government ministers and public sector chief executive officers for the next six months. It will translate to roughly about NZ$47,000 of Ms Ardern’s salary for the next six months and result in savings of about NZ$2.4 million or T$3.9 million.

Ms Ardern said the pay cut will not change her Government’s fiscal position but is about showing leadership at a critical time in New Zealand’s history.

The salaries of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Associate Ministers as well as Chief Executive Officers and Assistant Chief Executive Officers of the Samoa Government’s various ministries and agencies take up a large chunk of public sector expenditure.

Having heard of hundreds of men and women becoming unemployed in Samoa in recent months, wouldn't it be a noble gesture for Samoa Government leaders to voluntarily take a pay cut to create savings for the public purse?

Or channelling those savings to organisations such as the S.V.S.G. to enable them to continue offering vital services? Such as food supplies to families who don’t have any form of income as well as provide refuge for victims of gender-based violence, will ensure our most vulnerable will continue to be cared for.

The ball is now in the court of our leaders in Government, on whether they would want to show leadership by cutting their perks and privileges, and demonstrating to the people that we are all in this together.

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