Local actions just as important as aid assistance in time of crisis
A story titled “Pacific Finance Ministers plea for aid” published on the Monday edition of your Samoa Observer is neither new nor unusual in this part of the world. On these remote shores of the wide Pacific Ocean, pleading, begging, requesting, scabbing or whatever you want to call it is basically part of the job description for our political leaders given the smallness of the economies, lack of resources and finances for many Pacific islands - including Samoa.
The leaders who are at the forefront of seeking international assistance are always and often looking out for opportunities where international donors, partners and anyone who has money to burn, could be of assistance.
Let’s face it; we need it. Can you imagine life in Samoa without aid, whether it’s China, Australia, Japan, USA or any other country or development agency for that matter? Life as we know it today would be quite different.
But with the coronavirus pandemic driving a decline in the global economy, with the impact already acutely felt in all corners of the world, the need for aid assistance, especially for Pacific countries like Samoa, is even more apparent now.
Which brings us to the plight of the Pacific countries. So last week, the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, joined other Forum Economic Ministers to call for assistance from international development partners to help their nations survive the unforgiving impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In a joint statement, the leaders did not mince words.
“Forum Island Countries require immediate, and consistent financial support in the short to medium-term to overcome fiscal challenges arising from COVID-19,” a joint statement said. “We are concerned that the inherent vulnerability of our countries to economic shocks is exacerbated with increased exposure to climate change and natural disasters, which further strains the region’s limited fiscal capacities, including revenues and national budget.
“Public health systems will need considerable additional investment and resourcing, with the support of development partners, to develop robust standards and infrastructure that will effectively strengthen Members’ preparedness for re-opening and addressing the onset of any future pandemics or similar external shocks.”
We couldn’t agree more. There is absolutely no doubt that Samoa and many of the Pacific nations are not equipped or adequately resourced to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. It would be quite scary to try and imagine what such a deadly virus could do to these small countries and even worse is the fact that there remains no cure up until now.
But just how badly have Pacific countries been affected?
Well for one thing, this is a region, which relies strongly on tourism as the mainstay of their economies. With the borders tightly shut, many of them will have to find new ways of generating revenues to shore up shortages in budgets and more importantly everyday life on the ground.
In Samoa, the impact is quite profound. Last week, a United Nations research found that more than two-thirds of Samoans have lost income and struggling to repay debts as a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that not only had 68 per cent of Samoans lost income due to the crisis, a significant number of people have been forced to eat less.
“Close to half of respondents say that the decline of domestic and international travel has led to a reduction in earnings,” the report found.
“Twenty-three per cent said their employer has had to close a business, and 15 per cent have had their job terminated. The other most common reasons cited for a fall in income included the interruption of social activities and the unavailability of stock for market vendors and shops.
“Some respondents said they quit their jobs because their employer changed employment conditions due to the crisis.”
Now this is quite alarming, isn’t it?
But it was inevitable. Besides, we didn’t need a study to tell us because these grim developments can already be seen with what has been happening on the ground. Indeed, the symptoms are there for all to see. With increased unemployment, crime rates have been climbing despite the restrictions. Poverty and hardship are clearly evident with more and more people resorting to a life of begging to get by.
As the local Government coffers begin to dry up, the S.0.S. from Minister Sili and other Pacific Ministers has already been made. Coming at a time when all countries around the world are struggling with the pandemic, it’s going to be pretty hard for those other countries to proritise the need of Samoa and other Pacific countries over their people.
Which means the Government needs to be a lot more innovative and creative about ways to stimulate the economy, especially given the fact that Samoa up until this day remains coronavirus-free.
Government leaders should not just beg for handouts. They have to be a lot smarter in how they can get the local economies working without the need to sit around and wait for aid.
So where do we go from here? What do we do?
Why don’t we begin with some of these unnecessary State of Emergency (S.O.E.) restrictions? Look at rules to shut the supermarkets and local markets at Savalolo, Fugalei and Taufusi early for instance? Look at Sunday trading, including the closure of gas stations, ban on alcohol sale at resorts and hotels and ban on swimming and other basic activities on Sunday? What do these achieve? We can’t even find a place to fix a flat tyre on a Sunday, let alone petrol.
Without a case of coronavirus, how will these help Samoa?
The Government needs to be strategic, smart and calculated about some of these orders. What do you think?