Tackling poverty should be priority for new Government

The story of the random act of kindness that enabled a poverty-stricken family to get $5000 worth of building material to fix their home would have touched everyone.

Titled “Anonymous act of kindness amazes family” and published in the April 18, 2021 edition of the Sunday Samoan, the article told the story of the challenges that farmer Faleulu Ioane and his family faced and their plea for help.

Their fortunes changed on Saturday when an anonymous donor stepped forward with a $5000 voucher, which would enable them to get building material, and is the first step in the family’s lifelong dream to have a safer home.

It is not the first time for a good samaritan to step forward, touched by the daily challenges that many Samoan families are facing in the hinterlands of both Upolu and Savai’i, after reading the heart-rending details in the Samoa Observer’s Village Voice column over the years.

In fact it has never been the intention of this newspaper to be seen to be capitalising on the misery of ordinary citizens, but rather we’ve felt compelled to give a voice to the voiceless and the downtrodden, especially those who’ve either fallen through the gaps of a Government’s service delivery program or overlooked by the powers that be for whatever reason.

In recent years we’ve had some partners who’ve felt the need to intervene and stepped forward to bring a smile to the families; a private company and a church-run humanitarian organisation currently run programs that were inspired by this newspaper’s Village Voice column.

But for a nation comprising two large islands (and eight smaller islands) with a population of over 200,000 living off 11 per cent of 2,924 square kilometers of land considered arable, only so much can be done to cater for the needs of every family as a heartless Covid-19 pandemic threatens to worsen their living conditions.

It is for this reason that the onus is now on the incoming Government to put poverty alleviation at the top of its agenda for the next five years.

And while we are aware of long standing barriers to that policy shift, such as the caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi’s view that poverty doesn’t exist in Samoa, stories this newspaper continues to publish shows otherwise.

Not forgetting the first State of Human Rights Report compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution in 2015, which found one in every five Samoans live in poverty.

“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” the report stated at that time. 

“Approximately 20 per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line, with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the basic needs poverty line. Basically, this means that about 1 in every 5 Samoans live in poverty.”

As expected, Tuilaepa at that time quickly dismissed the National Human Rights Institution-authored report and came up with his own definition of poverty, saying “poverty is defined as someone who is so poor they walk around without clothes.”

“Have you seen someone like that in Samoa? If the answer is no, then there is no-one living in poverty in Samoa. There is no-one walking around on the road naked,” said the caretaker Prime Minister at that time.

“I have never heard about anyone in Samoa who has died because they have become so skinny from the lack of food.”

Tuilaepa made the above statement in 2016 and five years on, following the 2021 General Election and on the eve of a new government formation, the status quo hasn’t changed for a lot of ordinary citizens who would have questioned the veteran politician’s view of their living conditions but dread the backlash for speaking the truth.

The continued refusal by our leaders to acknowledge the true state of our ordinary people’s welfare and living conditions is a gross injustice not only to them, but also their children and the next generation of Samoans.

With a new Government on the horizon, it is time to move to a new paradigm of thinking in terms of identifying and tackling poverty in Samoa.

Talk to donor partners such as the World Bank and the United Nations, who’ve been more than accommodative to the caretaker Government’s request for financial aid in the last five years, and should be happy to share insights on how they define poverty and the work they are doing to address it globally.

Samoa needs to forge a new pathway to tackle this scourge and acknowledging its existence is the first step towards finding a long-term solution.

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