PEOPLE OF 2020: The money senders
Samoans are quite fond of the story of Daniel from the Bible and how he prayed and opened his window towards Jerusalem. So much so it has become part of the daily oratory referring to the love and generosity of the Samoan diaspora all over the world towards their families back home.
While the Biblical story talks about Daniel’s commitment in prayer to his God risking the wrath of his enemies, a Samoan’s commitment to family and country, regardless of where in the world he/she is, is through remittances. It is the lifeblood of Samoa in the good and bad times.
Indeed, the window to Samoa for many Samoans abroad is often the nearest Western Union outlet, or whatever foreign exchange and money transfer company, through which they could send cash. And with the advent of banking technology, the window has extended to online banking and the ability to transfer money whether it’s for cash power, school fees, the church’s taulaga or the daily fa’alavelave.
But the love and generosity doesn’t end with cash. These days, Samoans living overseas, especially in New Zealand and Australia, are able to purchase food and whatever grocery items they want only for their families in Samoa to uplift and enjoy.
Remittances are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Samoan economy every year. This amount, however, would easily be even higher if you add the value of household appliances being shipped over like freezers, TV, washing machines and much, much more.
This is the stuff that has sustained Samoa’s economy for as long as we can remember. Without remittances, Samoa would be in a much bigger mess financially, socially and spiritually today. Figures from the 2018-2019 Financial Year show that Samoa collected more than $530 million in remittances. While the final figure for this year has yet to be finalised, we predict that it would be a lot higher given the fact Samoans are now not able to travel back and forth and money they would normally spend on airfares and trips would also be remitted.
What will Samoa ever do without remittances?
Earlier this year, an interesting point was raised by the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi. To recognise the development of Samoa through those remittances, Tui Atua said it is time for the Government to consider giving Samoans living outside Samoa the opportunity to cast their votes, without having to come to Samoa to do so.
“How do you reciprocate such love?” Tui Atua asked. “Samoan people continue to show this love every day to their families and you have seen it with millions pouring in the country.
“In my opinion, is there a reason why we cannot reciprocate this love or do we just accept the good and not return this love that can recognise our people and their service…how do you counter that love?”
Tui Atua continued: “Look at the numbers [remittances] and how do you counter that to recognise their service? How many years have we had millions [from remittances] but we do not open up the opportunity to them [Samoans abroad] to vote if they support [Government] or not. There are many families who rely overseas for school fees and many other small things but that is the question how do we recognise that support from them over many years?”
Well Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, of course does not agree.
“The truth of the matter is our families here are reaping the fruits of their overseas relatives’ hard labour from their private remittances and not the Government,” he said.
“Money transferred over is directly utilised by families for their faalavelaves, to build new homes, buy cars, pay for their day-to-day necessities and even pay for their children’s education.”
What do you think? If the humble opinion of this writer were sought, I would say that is a whole lot of rubbish. We cannot deny that the love of Samoan families living outside Samoa, expressed through remittances, not only takes care of their families; they are also directly helping the economy of Samoa. These monies create business opportunities, job opportunities and it earns tax revenues for the Government every time this money is spent in circulation.
You don’t need to be a scientist to know this.
What’s important is the principle upon which the love and duty of care expressed through remittances is based. When many Samoans moved overseas, the goal was to find greener pastures. Some of them have and are doing quite well, others are struggling. A good number of Samoans living overseas are among the poorest and living in poverty, according to those countries’ standards.
But they never forget Samoa. They always and often open the window to their Jerusalem. And for that, our people living in Samoa, especially Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Government should be grateful.
We simply don’t want to imagine what could happen when the stream dries up.