Christmas Lights Festival: Wonderful but is it the wisest use of public money?

The Government’s plan to host a Christmas Lights Festival from 11 until 25 December 2020 is not necessarily a bad idea. Given everything the people of this country have been through during the past few months, and after the measles crisis of last year, everyone needs a break.

The inaugural Lights Festival will no doubt bring much-needed positive vibes when the nation sits down to commemorate the festive season and Christmas.

But is it the best idea? And is it the best way to spend taxpayers’ monies amidst the economic and health crises before us?  

Indeed, with the economy facing a massive decline in revenue and employment due the coronavirus-led economic downturn that has grounded the country's tourism industry, how can a Festival of Lights help all these people suffering? Will it put food on the table for many families struggling to make ends meet? Will it help keep many tourism businesses afloat after Christmas?

These are some of the tough questions we must ask in times like this. It’s not that we want to be anti-social and anti-community events but we believe that in times like this, the Government has got to be prudent in terms of how it spends public monies, every sene counts.

On the front page of the Samoa Observer yesterday, a story titled “Cabinet orders Christmas lights spending capped” revealed that Cabinet has asked all Government Ministries to spend a maximum of $10,000 on the event. That’s a cool $130,000 all up, plus however much it will cost the Electric Power Corporation to keep the lights on the streets working.

The order is made in a Cabinet Paper signed by the Secretary to Cabinet, Agafili Shem Leo.  Dated 7 October 2020, the Cabinet Directive says all Government offices will be decorated with light and the Electricity Power Corporation will be in charge of lights on the main road.  

 “The funding for these efforts comes from the budget for Financial Year 2020-2021 and that each Ministry that has buildings should be decorated can spend up to $10,000," the document reads.

According to the story, the idea is to encourage families, businesses to decorate their houses, offices with lights starting the week before Christmas. The proposed event is premised on the notion that “beyond the clouds, the sun still shines; and despite the storms, light when given a glimpse of hope, will penetrate and diffuse darkness.”     

Again, we do not disagree with the thinking behind such a festival. On paper and in an ideal world, who would say no to such a wonderful positive community event? And if it was done at a time when public coffers are overflowing with cash, why not? We could possibly have the Festival of Lights all the way until the elections? Who would say no to lighting up Apia and exposing all that’s there to be seen when the lights are switched on?

But these are difficult and unprecedented times and it is where we disagree and we believe the Government must be realistic in terms of its spending.

We want to remind our readers that all this spending is being planned in the middle of a coronavirus-led economic downturn. We have already seen the negative impact of the widespread Covid19 business closures, unemployment and the cost of all other unnecessary S.O.E. orders, despite the fact we do not have a positive case of the coronavirus.

 In the tourism industry for instance, there are real concerns that many hotels might not make it past Christmas 2020. Many other businesses are also staring down the brink of a similar fate?

On the Government’s side, the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, has already predicted that the overall total revenues for the Government will drop by five per cent, or $42.7 million, in the new fiscal year.  That is not a small amount and that money will have to come from somewhere.

In the bigger scheme of things, maybe, just maybe the Government thinks that $130,000 is a drop in a bucket and that such an amount, $10,000 from each Ministry, will not hurt their budgets. That maybe so, but what good is a Festival of Lights for a family who cannot afford cash power, no food on the table and no drinking water?

Would it not be better for the Government to buy as many sacks of rice, boxes of chicken, $20 tala cash power and distribute it to families as a Christmas gift as opposed to wasting taxpayers’ money on an all-for-show good for nothing lights festival?

But that’s just what we think. We could be wrong.

What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!


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