Avoiding ‘election-related expenses’

Recent data from the Samoa Bureau of Statistics on the state of the economy hasn’t made good reading of late.

Early this month Government statistics showed a quarterly decline in the nation’s gross domestic product (G.D.P.) by 16.3 per cent for the September quarter of 2020, it marked the largest drop in the economy since the Government started keeping quarterly economic records over two decades ago.

Revenue collection also dropped by 20 per cent, according to the Samoa Bureau of Statistics-issued Government Finance Statistics report for the September quarter of last year.

Pressure will increase on the Government to provide more essential services, as more companies lay off people or go bust, due to their inability to generate income to sustain their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the local economy in doldrums, and a lot of uncertainty over when normalcy will return despite the haphazard roll out of coronavirus vaccines globally, it isn’t the best time to add to Government spending.

Therefore recent reports confirming plans by the Human Rights Protection Party-led Government to create two new Ministries – by splitting the Ministries of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) and Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.) – are a cause for concern.

The Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Luau Keneti Sio, confirmed recently that a review is underway into his Ministry with a view to offloading some of its responsibilities.

The Government’s decision to increase the size of the Cabinet has always been on the cards, and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi is already on public record, saying last year there will be constitutional amendments tabled in the Parliament to increase the size of the Cabinet from 13 to 15.

But the creation of two extra Ministerial portfolios will translate to added cost and you wonder whether this is necessary at a time when the national economy is already struggling due to the pandemic?

Recently Member of Parliament for Vaimauga Sasa’e, Sulamanaia Tauiliili Tuivasa, urged the Ministry of Finance to consider increasing the salaries of Village Mayors and Women Representatives.

“They play a huge role in the governance of the villages and their responsibilities have increased, hence the need to increase their salaries,” said Sulamanaia. "Especially now with the state of emergency restrictions they are the ones implementing and enforcing these regulations in the villages.

“They keep order in the villages and it is their role to assure peace transpires daily and, with them in place, there is no need to seek assistance from the [Ministry of] Police.” 

With the M.P. adding that the Village Mayors and Women Representatives “should be given bonuses” while they await their salary increases as appreciation for their hard work.

The M.P. must have forgotten that hundreds of workers in Samoa’s tourism sector were laid off over the last 10 months and remain unemployed, unsure where their families’ next meal will come from and are most likely living in debt.

It is presumptuous for an M.P. to ask for a pay rise and bonuses for officials who are already on the Government payroll, when there are hundreds of unemployed citizens who are either struggling to make ends meet or don’t have any form of employment.

It is interesting that discussions around financial rewards for village-based Government officials as well as Cabinet expansion plans have emerged on the eve of the 2021 General Election.

Are these all part of an overall political strategy by the ruling H.R.P.P. to win the support of Village Mayors and Women Representatives and by default the Village Councils in a high stakes election where it now faces a formidable rival in the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party?

And what about the plan to expand the size of the Cabinet? Is the ruling party telling rival parties that new Ministries in an expanded Cabinet are available for potential coalition partners in the new government?

No doubt the H.R.P.P. top brass will keep their political cards close to their chest as the country goes into election mode. 

But does the ruling party and the Government have to add unnecessary cost to an already under pressure budget with politics-connected expenditure that will not add value to the lives of the people?

Currently ordinary citizens want the Government to create jobs or income generation opportunities that would enable them to take care of their families. 

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