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S.O.E. Orders, private sector and double standards

Last Wednesday the Government advised that the state of emergency [S.O.E.]. has been extended to November 22.

The 27-day extension ensures that the restrictions that are currently in place – which authorities say will mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic – were rolled over into this month.

It is public knowledge that the S.O.E. restrictions continue to stifle attempts by local businesses to turn around their fortunes amidst the economic downturn.

The Government’s stimulus package of close to $100 million to jumpstart the economy, which was announced in May this year, is acknowledged. But more needs to be done for the private sector with its members now fearing the worst.

ANZ Bank Country Manager, Bernie Poort, echoed those sentiments recently when he appealed for more Government assistance to the private sector.

Mr Poort, who is also the Bankers Association Chairman, said they are still waiting to hear from the Government.

“But nothing seems to be forthcoming,” he said, in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“Looking around other Pacific Islands, like Australia and New Zealand their Governments are spending large amounts of money to keep people employed and their economies moving forward, in Samoa we just haven’t seen that.”

Amid the praying and hopes for a resolution to address the plight of long suffering local businesses, reports trickled in over the weekend of the Cabinet overturning a Ministry of Health [M.O.H.] decision to refuse entry to a group of Chinese nationals.

A story titled “Cabinet grants Chinese sailors border passes”, published in the October 31, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, revealed a decision by the Cabinet in August this year to exempt four Chinese nationals from the country’s border closure orders and allow them to enter the country by sea.

The approval by the Cabinet – to allow the entry of four Chinese nationals Honghai Miao, Aiguo Shi, Xiao Wang and Jing Wu – was granted in August this year in response to a request from Huanan Fishery. 

It is shocking that the Cabinet saw fit to overturn the decision of the M.O.H. in favour of a foreign company, whose workers originate from a nation that in the early stages of the pandemic was the epicentre of the virus.

In fact regardless of whether the foreign workers originate from China or any other state for that matter, everyone should be subject to the same laws.

The Cabinet’s decision makes a mockery of the M.O.H. and its S.O.E. orders, and raises questions about the integrity of the Government’s systems and processes, which it claims were initially put in place to protect the citizens and the nation.

The former Independent M.P. Olo Fiti Vaai, in response to the revelations by this newspaper, said Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi was not being truthful on the enforcement of the S.O.E. restrictions when the Cabinet gave the greenlight to the Chinese firm and its four workers.

“They [the Government] are also not following their explanations and policies stated in the [state of emergency]; they aren’t,” he said.

“How can the whole country seek to keep the country safe at our borders when fishing vessels are bringing in foreigners?

“Fishing vessels are bringing in Chinese nationals, not through the planes, but they are coming through the boats.”

We can understand the frustrations of the former politician, who as the Member of Salega until recently, would have residents of his then constituency decrying the double standards and hoping for further Government assistance in these challenging times.

And sadly, this is not the first time for the Cabinet to overturn the decisions of a Ministry, in the face of public sentiment that would see such decision making in a bad light.

Just last month the controversy over the Vaia’ata Prison Project in Savai’i laid bare the flaws of the Government’s public tender process. 

It put on display the decision of a Minister who chose to overlook building requirements and push a project he wanted to have oversight over. Cabinet's intervention overruled the decision of the Tenders Board and enabled him to get things done his way 

Cabinet, through its decisions of late including that relating to Huanan Fishery, is signalling to citizens that it doesn’t care about systems and processes nor the work of Government Ministries or agencies such as the Tenders Board trying to go by the book.

Ultimately the people want consistency in the enforcement of the S.O.E. orders and empathy to acknowledge how dire the situation has become for families, consequently the need for further assistance – not double standards that ridicule our laws and in the middle of a pandemic and heighten the risk of infection.

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