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Political party scrutinises Government's budget

The leader of the Tautua Samoa Party, Afualo Luagalau Dr. Salele, has drilled holes in the Government’s 2020-2021 Budget, saying the money plan falls short of assisting the private sector whom he says are only “inundated” with more taxes. 

An economist by profession, Afualo told the Samoa Observer during an interview that the Government is not honouring its partnership with the country’s private sector, warning that taxes are overwhelming companies. 

“They are not providing enough in my view, the Government is not fully honouring the partnership as they always call it. That’s not the case,” he said in an interview. 

“With what I see, there’s a lot of bottlenecks along with a lot of regulations the Government has put in place, which have become [restrictive] for the growth of the private sector.” 

Afualo claimed that there were too many “red flags” in the Government’s budget, which is inhibiting the private sector’s ability to grow, and comes at a time when the business community needs assistance from the Government.

“And that includes accessing revenues to develop the private sector, plus taxes that have now inundated the private sector, it is just too much,” he added.

Last week, a budget for the 2020-2021 financial year was tabled in Parliament and comprises $838 million in revenue and $965 million in expenditure.

The Government also released Phase II of its stimulus package of $80 million to assist those most affected by the economic downturn, brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.

Among  the measures announced to assist the private sector, the Government will cover 50 per cent of the daily fixed rates extended to hotels by the Electric Power Corporation while the water rate reduction has been extended to December and will include commercial clients.

Afualo has acknowledged the Government’s offer to reduce power and water rates for the tourism industry operators, but says the hoteliers do not need it.

“Even though they say they’re reducing electricity and water [rates] for hotels and them but that’s not what they need,” Afualo added. “Technically the Government isn’t forthcoming; why would they levy [these rates] when there aren’t any guests? There’s no occupancy rate at the moment apart from locals filling in the gaps one by one to try and fill that vacuum.

“Unless they focus on something that is more needed, they’re not helping them.”

Emphasising that the private sector needed space to “breath”, Afualo said it is time for firms to “rethink their way forward in terms of diversifying their goals.” 

According to a macroeconomist from the Victoria University of Wellington, Robert Kirkby, the Samoa Government’s own recession prediction of 3 per cent partly relies on tourism rebounding after COVID-19. But this will be difficult considering the restrictions on businesses and the curtailing of the public’s movements on Sundays, according to business owners in the tourism sector.

Litia Sini Beach Resort Owner, Lydia Toomalatai, says she hopes the Government will not go so far as to make the ban on swimming and eating out on Sundays permanent as it will damage the tourism sector.

State of emergency (S.O.E.) orders issued on April 15 prohibits eating at a restaurant, taking public transport, swimming at a beach or opening businesses on a Sunday, except for small stores. Breaching the orders attracts a $10,000 fine. 

Last month, Amnesty International's Pacific Researcher, Kate Schuetze called on the Samoan Government not to use the global coronavirus pandemic as a cover for carrying out its wishes, like the steady clampdown on Sunday trading. 

The Sunday S.O.E. orders has seen businesses seeking clarification and assistance from the Samoa Chamber of Commerce, according to the Chamber's Chief Executive Officer, Lemauga Hobart Vaai early last month. 

But the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi had told state broadcaster Radio 2AP that he hopes to make the Sunday ban a permanent fixture of Samoan life.

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