Families first. Rebooting the economy post-COVID

Two hundred candidates, the rise of the four month-old Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi [F.A.S.T.] party, and the numerical supremacy of the ruling Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] following the close of nominations.

And then throw in the Supreme Court challenges that upset candidates intend to pursue this week against the Office of the Electoral Commission [O.E.C.], and where the former deputy prime minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s party affiliations will materialise when she takes her oath of office as an uncontested candidate, and you can say Samoa’s got a battle royale of epic proportions on the political scene come April.

Amid the excitement by the various political parties’ faithful, and the ferocious tit for tat exchange between rival party leaders, we wonder if anyone noticed the Central Bank of Samoa [C.B.S.] data that showed that the local economy is now in freefall due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The C.B.S. last Friday released an update on the state of the economy for the first quarter of the current Financial Year. In a Samoa Observer article titled “Economy’s fall faster than ever” in the Saturday, October 24, 2020 edition, the bank reported that Samoa’s economic output for the first quarter of the current Financial Year was 11.9 per cent lower, when compared to the same period in the preceding year. 

Consequently, our Gross Domestic Product [G.D.P.] fell from $556.33 million for the June quarter in 2019 to just $489.89 million. The contraction in G.D.P. over the 2019-20 Financial Year was greater than had been forecast by 0.2 per cent. The bank had expected overall output to fall by 3.3 per cent but it dropped by 3.5 per cent. 

The revised data showed Samoa’s economy performed by a total of 7.1 per cent worse in the previous financial year on the basis of an annual comparison. 

With the pandemic showing no signs of abating globally and experts estimating a 12-18 months timeline for the development of a coronavirus vaccine, the reopening of Samoa’s borders and the resumption in international travel to signal the reviving of our tourism industry are off the table and thus continue to leave our economy vulnerable.

One of the biggest challenges that awaits the new Government after April 2021 is the formulation of policies to begin the post-Covid economic recovery agenda, and the need to identify new drivers of economic growth away from the traditional sectors of tourism, remittances and foreign aid.

Have we taken every single candidate running in the general election to task on what his or her plans are in terms of Samoa’s post-Covid economic recovery agenda?

What about the various registered political parties and where they currently stand on the Government’s post-Covid economic recovery agenda?

And should the Government continue to extend its state of emergency [S.O.E.] orders when the private sector can and should capitalise on Samoa’s COVID-19 free status by returning to normal trading hours every day of the week?

Unsurprisingly, our regional neighbours with economic challenges similar to ours, are also considering their options and working behind the scenes to ‘monetize’ their COVID-19 free status.

Vanuatu, which like Samoa is free of the coronavirus, agreed to send seasonal workers to Australia’s Northern Territory with the first batch of 160 workers reportedly arriving in Darwin early last month after four months of negotiations.

They were the first fruit pickers to be allowed back into Australia after it closed its borders to international travel in March this year. 

This is an avenue that the Government of Samoa could consider for our seasonal workers, who also had to return home at the height of the pandemic. 

Ultimately we hope our aspiring politicians as well as their parliamentary colleagues currently in the Legislative Assembly look at the figures quoted by the C.B.S. report last Friday, and acknowledge that those sets of data manifest themselves as economic hardships today that affect Samoans of all walks of life. 

These citizens and their families could be precariously close to poverty or are already living in poverty, forced into dire straits when the pandemic forced the closure of local businesses and the laying off of thousands of workers.

Is there more that the Government can do for families who have lost one or more forms of income through the laying off of a working family member?

The pandemic and the economic challenges it brings offers an opportune time for us to begin work to reboot the economy post-COVID. 

It is a conversation that should begin in earnest with our Members of Parliament leading in partnership and dialogue with the people.

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