Flood-hit businesses deserve Government assistance

Businesses in Samoa, small, medium or big, devastated by flooding two weeks ago deserve assistance from the Government.

Whether it’s a hundred or a million tala, the amount is irrelevant at this point. It’s the thought that counts especially in such a turbulent year where these businesses have been smashed by the impact of events they had very little control over.

After the tragedy and toll of the measles crisis last year, the economic challenges brought by COVID-19 were perhaps the last thing these businesses needed. And yet they have had to endure the worst of it with many of them barely managing to keep nose above water.

But then came the flooding two weeks ago, which provided what we fear could be the knockout blow for a number of these businesses. While the Government has estimated the cost of the flooding in terms of infrastructure to have hit $71 million and counting, it is frightening to imagine how much the flooding cost these private companies. Purely judging from interviews conducted by the Samoa Observer with businesses in the Central Business District and around the Apia Township, the average cost has been estimated to be around $50,000. Some businesses estimate that their losses could be up to $100,000 and more.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In some cases, some of these businesses could be closed for good. Many of them were already struggling from the measles and then COVID19; the flooding was the last straw. The scary thought is that we are in the middle of the cyclone season and from here onwards, anything could happen. We only have to look at Fiji and the devastation caused by a category 5 Cyclone Yasa to know that if anything of the sort happens to Samoa, it could be quite the catastrophe no one needs.

The private sector is the engine of economic growth. And if the Government wants this engine to work and hum as it should, then it cannot distant itself from the plight of these businesses.

Which is why we find the comments from the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Finance, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, who said the Government would not provide financial assistance to small businesses affected by the flooding, very sad.  

According to Leasiosio, the Government has been quite generous with two stimulus packages for COVID-19, which included assistance with the reduction of loan interests with all commercial banks and other subsidies for electricity and water bills. Another benefit the C.E.O. noted was the assistance recently distributed for people whose employment was affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

We don’t dispute the Government’s assistance spoken of by Leasiosio. While some people might say it was insufficient, in desperate situations, something is better than nothing and we’re sure that is how many businesses viewed the assistance.

But when the going continues to get tough, people need leaders who provide reassurance and offer a helping hand. They do not need a Government, which turns its back on them and would rather spell out what they have done in the past instead as a way to justify their unwillingness to help.

While the stimulus package would have provided some relief that was then. We are talking about now, two weeks after one of the worst floods to have been experienced by this nation.

No one would have been prepared for this, especially amidst multiple crises.

That said, we have to be realistic of course about where the Government will source funding from. We accept that they do not have an endless stream of monies to be able to help.  Still, there are many other ways they can help.

Aside from reaching into the millions of tala worth of aid and grant funding Samoa has received for COVID19 preparations and what have you, the Minister of Finance had only recently tabled a supplementary budget of $42 million. Of that amount, more than $24 million is intended for debt relief and redirected Government spending.

Surely with the Government having such power, they can easily amend the supplementary budget to allow them to be able to help these businesses. It doesn’t have to be a substantial amount but anything they could do would undoubtedly not go unnoticed. Besides it is in their best interest to ensure these businesses stay operational and continue to pay their taxes.

But if all else fails and they cannot find funding to help, surely they can start selling off some of those expensive unnecessary vehicles. They will only need to sell at least 12 of those pick up trucks or a couple or landcruisers to raise a million tala or two which would go a long way to help these struggling businesses. What do you think?

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!



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