Minister dismisses threats to Samoa's credibility

By Sapeer Mayron 03 October 2020, 9:30PM

The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, is not concerned that Samoa’s restrictive state of emergency rules (S.O.E.) or the proposed Constitutional changes will affect overseas investors choosing Samoa.

After spending up large growing the country’s internet connectivity infrastructure to encourage big business or rich individuals to set up shop here, legal changes have some concerned Samoa may lose its spot in the sun.

But Afamasaga is not concerned about the international reactions to these reforms, nor to Samoa’s surprising restrictions on free movement under the state of emergency.

“Samoa with no Covid cases is even making us more attractive to the business world,” he said.

“We are turning heads and raising eyebrows here and there, people are asking why Samoa, what are we doing right. Is this a place I can set up my business?”

Earlier this year, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher Kate Scheutze warned that Samoa risks losing its international credibility if it passes a suite of controversial Bills to reform the Land and Titles Court.

“If Samoa passes these laws there could be further international scrutiny and there is a range of mechanisms through the U.N. which would trigger investigations or it could trigger communications with the Samoan government asking them to explain the laws that are being considered here,” she said in May.

“Samoa has been touted as what a Pacific island nation should be in terms of maintaining judicial independence, the rule of law and the separation of powers. 

“They lose a lot of that credibility and standing on the international stage, and its ability to influence and engage from the moral high ground when it is conducting its relationships with other Pacific islands as well.”

And in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute warned failing to uphold the rule of law could threaten the country’s membership in the Commonwealth.

Afamasaga said that of the conversations he is having with interested investors, none are asking about either the state of emergency or the Land and Titles reforms.

“I am not worried at all,” he said.

“I am Government and I am in full support of the three bills, my district are [sic] in full support of the three bills. 

“We as Government, as Cabinet, we put this in place to protect Samoa and protect our people.

“So far with people that we are in discussion with on all this, they don’t care. Nobody has asked, nobody seems to be having any concerns.”

Afamasaga believes his ministry can be among the driving forces for Samoa’s economic recovery, with plans in place to both train newly unemployed tourism workers in I.C.T. skills, and incentivise businesses to hire them.

He revealed he is submitting a paper to Cabinet requesting all Government I.C.T. workers be released from duty five hours a week to train people in coding and other skills, especially those who were laid off from hotels.

The Government is also discussing what kind of incentives they can offer businesses to inspire them to establish themselves in Samoa, through tax credits, data subsidies and rental subsidies.

Currently two companies that own call centres have already started negotiations with Samoa, one of which hopes to employ 400 people by the end of the year, Afamasaga said.

“We are a small community and quite honestly we don’t have much to offer the world. What have we got? But with good connectivity we can attract big businesses and the big business world,” he said.

“We can be a centre of vibrancy for the world.”

Afamasaga said he has not yet costed how much these two companies might bring into Samoa’s economy, nor has he set a target for how much similar investments could yield.

“We haven’t put a figure there but one thing for sure is that once we have high yield investments here, there will be no question, we are talking millions.

“We are yet to do an analysis. If we have five or six companies like that to start with then we are certainly looking at the six figure mark in terms of investment.”

As well as companies, Samoa also wants to attract individuals who can work remotely from anywhere in the globe, known colloquially as “digital nomads.”

It can only do so with fast and affordable internet connection, something Afamasaga says is booming.

He could not say whether Samoa will open its borders to these kinds of migrants anytime soon nor whether it plans to outright advertise for it.

People can already apply for remote work visas to live in Anguilla, Barbados, Bermuda, and even Georgia. Croatia has indicated it plans to launch a similar visa this year. 

“Safety of our people is paramount,” Afamsaga said.

“We will play it by ear and see how the world goes. We would love to have a vaccine but as long as there is no vaccine we would love our people to be safe and live freely and be COVID-19 free.”

By Sapeer Mayron 03 October 2020, 9:30PM

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