Remittances, Samoans abroad and the concept of tautua

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 February 2019, 12:00AM

Numbers don’t lie. If Samoa’s economy received $503.73 million in remittances from Samoans overseas last year, that is a massive contribution to the economy by any standard. 

Now let’s quickly take a look at the Government’s revenue collections during the past few years. In 2011, the Ministry of Revenue collected $420 million; it dropped to $377 million in 2012, and went up to $409 million in 2013. In 2014, it further increased to $421 million, $431 million in 2015 and for 2016 it was $485 million. 

Last year it climbed for the first time above the half a billion tala mark to $506 million and for this year, the Government is chasing a target of $524 million. The trend shows that Government is increasing its revenue collections, which is good for the country.

But purely for comparison purposes, let’s look at the figures for last year. In Samoa, the total revenues – including the many different forms of taxes and the charges for services – was only three million tala higher than the remittances amount. 

Now that is quite telling, isn’t it? And numbers don’t lie. 

A story published on the front page of Samoa Observer on Friday gave us a bit more detail in terms of the breakdown.  According to figures released by the Central Bank of Samoa, the amount for last year was an increase of $98.56m compared to the 2016/17 financial year, which was $405.17m. 

And where is the bulk of the remittances coming from? New Zealand is still Samoa’s biggest source with $203.87 million, followed by Australia at $162.28 million and the United States $87.88 million. Other source countries include American Samoa with $17.63 million, United Kingdom $4.22 million and Fiji $3.13 million.

Almost 70 per cent of that $503 million is sent by families and individuals which is more than $350 million. Again, this is a huge amount of money, a gigantic contribution to the economy of this country when you compare to the money that is being collected locally by the Government.

Which brings us to a story titled “Most of $503.7m comes from seasonal workers, Minister claims” published on page 2 of yesterday’s newspaper. It was certainly an interesting read. The story featured the Minister for Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who claimed that most of the remittances come from seasonal workers. How much exactly he did not say.

But he was quite dismissive when he was asked about the significant contribution by Samoans overseas to the local economy.

“Does that include the seasonal workers and that?” Tialavea questioned. 

Told yes, he said: “Break away the remittance from seasonal workers and the people who live there because most of that is from the seasonal workers that the Government sent to work there. Other than that, I don’t know anything else.”

Really? If he doesn’t know anything else, he might want to dig up and find out a bit more. We say this because we fear what would happen to this country when remittances dry up? 

The fact is without those remittances and aid from donor partners and countries, this country would be in deep, deep trouble because the Government hasn’t been able to collect enough money – whether its through revenue or other sources – to keep it afloat.

If anything, this Government should be grateful to Samoans who are contributing these remittances. And yet that was not reflected in the Minister’s comments.

 “The money goes to the family for the fa’alavelaves (domestic obligations like funerals). They are sending money back to their family, it’s good for them they sending money to them,” he said. “It’s not like they are sending money directly to the Government to spend.” 

Well again, we want to point out that this money is used to buy so many different goods and pay services in Samoa, which end up being taxed. 

Folks, that money does go back to the Government. You see every time a family buys a can of elegi, it is taxed. 

Every time people buy electricity, water and even pay for their vehicle registrations at L.T.A., the Government benefits since it receives that money. 

It would be even more interesting to find out how much of that $503million remittance figure goes back to the Ministry of Revenue through taxes and other means.

The simple truth is that without remittances, many of the families here would find the cost of living unbearable. Remittances are putting food on the table, paying for electricity, water, land, housing, health and so much more. It’s putting petrol in cars, giving buses good business and so forth.

But why are we talking about this? Well there is this growing debate that has been bubbling beneath the surface – but perhaps more obvious in the cyber world than anywhere else – about Samoans overseas and whether they have a voice in affairs of what is happening in Samoa.

We accept that it’s a deeply divisive issue and people are entitled to their opinions. 

But it’s unnecessary in our view to promote an agenda about the different types of Samoans. Samoans are Samoans wherever they are. 

Besides, the tautua (service) which is a critical concept in Samoa, is taking place in many different forms these days. Remittances is one of them, it is an integral form of tautua. And in the Samoa that we know, anybody who renders tautua is eligible for leadership and privileges that comes with it. It’s that simple.

Which brings us to the point that the Government’s attitude, judging from the Minister’s dismissive comments about the remittances, is quite unfortunate. We say this because we should embrace the contribution by all Samoans to the development of this country. Again, we want to remind that the numbers don’t lie.

At the end of the day, this country doesn’t just belong to the Government or Samoans living in Samoa, it belongs to all Samoans wherever they are. Keep in mind that with so many Samoans living here and being unemployed, some Samoans living overseas probably contribute more to the development of the economy through remittances.

And we want to say to all those Samoans and non-Samoans who contribute to those millions of remittances, that we are deeply grateful. Thank you.

Have peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 16 February 2019, 12:00AM
Samoa Observer

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