New virus strain, priorities unchanged: Govt.

The Government’s financial outlook is unchanged by the emergence of new COVID-19 strains, saying their focus remains unchanged: keeping the virus out of the country.

“Strain or no strain, we are focusing on strengthening our security at the border, there's only one way the virus can get in is through our border,” Ministry of Finance Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.), Leasiosiofaasisina Oscar Malielegaoi told the Samoa Observer. 

“As Agafili [Shem Leo] the Head of the [National Emergency Operation Centre] has also spoken that border security remains tight, as we also turned away a cargo ship earlier, it is to ensure there is no chance for the virus to enter Samoa.”

New mutations of COVID-19 have been detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa both and both are believed to be highly transmissible. 

He also said that if the virus should reach Samoa there are already protocols in place.

Government statistics from the last quarter noted that while tax revenues fell drastically, an increase in financial assistance from donor countries as well as reduced Government spending resulted in a surplus last quarter.

Leasiosio clarified that most of the assistance from donor partners are funds for multi-year projects.

He said it is Government protocol to declare all funds received, even if they will not be used in the current financial period, which led to the perceived increase in revenue.

"[Much] of the assistance was declared in April to June but June was the end of that financial year, but we do this so accounts are transparent, acknowledging the assistance of donors, however, we cannot use all that money in June," he said.

"So it was declared last year for works that will be carried out in the current financial year; maybe not just the current, but also within one, two or three years. Because many project funds from partners are multi-year projects."

The Finance C.E.O. took the Faleolo International Airport, which started in about 2016 to 2017, and was constructed over several years as an example. 

He also noted that, similarly, the Asian Development Park; Matautu wharf project as well as the Friendship Park gifted by the Huizhou Municipality in the People's Republic of China; have had their funding declared even though the bulk of manpower and resources to construct them cannot yet be brought into Samoa.

"It causes the accounts to artificially inflate, and yet [...], those sorts of funds, once we declare and appropriate it somewhere, we cannot touch it until it starts and then we start paying contractors," Leasiosio said.

"But again, with many of these projects, all we do is verify, check and see if it is happening but the payment is done from overseas. The reason we declare it locally is to fully account and make it transparent.

"That's why when people say there is so much assistance coming into the country and yet nothing is done; it is because the money is intended for specific purposes."

Samoa’s Gross Domestic Product in the previous financial year contracted by 3.3 per cent - a “minimal” effect on the economy compared to neighbouring countries, the Minister of Finance said in the last Parliamentary session.

"There remains the confidence that the efforts of the Government through the reshuffling of its priorities towards its set of response policies are successful in ensuring that the state of the economy remains stable during these difficult times," he said.

"There is no doubt that countries across the globe have been greatly affected by the pandemic and Samoa has been no exception."

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