Will the Govt. consider helping all Samoans who are “financially distressed” pay their loans?

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa, 15 May 2019

Sometime at the beginning of last week, the Samoa Observer was given a copy of an internal memo from the Minister of the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.), Sala Fata Pinati, and the Samoa Hotels Association (S.H.A.).

Dated 7th May 2019, the memo titled “Rehabilitation of Financially Stressed Tourism Properties" was addressed to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

It was an interesting read. For one thing, the memo started off on a very high note where Minister Sala was gloating about the performance of the tourism industry in Samoa during the past few years.

“The performance of the tourism industry has been over the past few years highlighted by record growth in overall visitor’s arrivals…” the memo started off. It went on to talk about “unprecedented growth” and all sorts of "records" the industry had achieved in the past years.

Which was ironic because despite the talk from the Minister about all these so-called records, the "truth" about the memo was perhaps the only "record" the Minister and this Government should be really concerned about, the "record" number of “financially stressed tourism” properties who need help in Samoa today.

Which is what the memo was all about. It was a desperate plea from the Minister to the Government for financial help to “write off” principal amounts owed by “financially distressed properties to different financial institutions".

The memo did not disclose the properties and how much they owed. 

But for the sake of “ongoing commercial viability” of the tourism industry, the Minister urged the Prime Minister to consider the allocation of $20 million from the Government to help. He also pleaded with the Government to advise the financial institutions to hold off on "all legal actions" against the properties.

That was at the beginning of the week.

Towards the end of the week, Minister Sala was a lot more upbeat when he spoke with this newspaper. This time he had already fronted Cabinet and Prime Minister Tuilaepa with the content of the memo and he had some good news for the tourism properties.

Firstly, he said Cabinet had stopped the Development Bank of Samoa (D.B.S.) from taking legal action and seizing the assets the tourism properties with loan accounts there.

Secondly, he was optimistic that the request for $20 million financial assistance would be granted.

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"I appeared before Cabinet not as a Minister, but as a human being pleading for help,” Sala said.

“It was an emotional day for me as I literally wept before Cabinet. They needed to know how much this means for me when the wealthy people come to me, a poor man for help, I had to act.”

Now let’s pause here for a minute and consider this very, very carefully.

Firstly, who are these “wealthy people” and why is Cabinet giving them special treatment? If they are “wealthy people,” they should surely be able to pay these loans, don’t you think? After all, they are duty bound to honour their obligations to the bank to pay. That’s what “wealthy people” do.

Secondly, as the Minister of Tourism, these “wealthy people” are not asking Sala the person to help them. They are asking him in his capacity as a representative of the Government and therefore the people of Samoa.

Ladies and gentlemen, that $20 million is not going to come from the Minister’s personal account; it will have to be funded by taxpayers. Which means everyone who pays taxes in this country would suddenly be held responsible for these loans they had nothing to do with in the first place. Elsewhere, a child’s education would be affected, someone will not get the health service they deserve and so forth.

Is that fair? Is this normal? The answer is an emphatic no.

Now, Minister Sala said the tourism industry needs the hotels to remain in business. He’s got a point and we get that.

“The consequences (of these hotels being closed) far outweigh the amount of the loans. We are not saying the hoteliers’ loans will be written off,” he said.

“The Cabinet is more concerned about the ripple effect.… this means the workers will be jobless and they will have to look for means to pay for their loans and provide for their families.”

Again that is a valid point but we just cannot help but feel so sad about the rest of Samoa and what they are going through.

The truth is, we live in a country where commercial banks and financial institutions are hauling some of the poorest people to jail everyday for failing to pay their loans. Some of these loans are as little as a hundred tala and yet these people are shown absolutely no mercy.

Now will Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration consider helping all Samoans who are “financially distressed” (which would include most Samoans) pay their loans? 

Don’t hold you breath!

Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa, 15 May 2019

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