P.M. and Olo in verbal sparring over Govt. debt
Member of Parliament for Salega, Olo Fiti Vaai, has cautioned the Government against further borrowing, saying the $1.09 billion foreign debt, could tip the country over the edge.
Speaking in Parliament during the budget debate, Olo questioned the Government’s plans - including the newest one to spend $250million on the Vaiusu Wharf development.
“Now the government wants to build the wharf in Vaiusu,” he said. “Yet we already have such a high amount of debts. Does this mean we will add another billion onto out debt to try and service these debts?”
“There is an old saying that it’s better to achieve something with what we can afford than to put our freedom in jeopardy with loans we might not be able to pay.”
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was not impressed. He said Olo lacked understanding of financial matters.
“I have spoken about this issue on many occasions,” Tuilaepa said.
“Looking back to the previous financial year, we collected more revenue than projected.”
Tuilaepa said this indicates the Government is more than able to meet its debt repayment, which is the most important aspect.
“The amount of the debt is not important, it’s our ability to repay.”
Tuilaepa added that sometimes it’s good to spend money on big projects because these projects stimulate the economy. They provide jobs for people.
The Prime Minister used the Samoa Airport Authority’s newest terminal built with loans from the Chinese government as an example.
He said the terminal is already collecting the Government revenues during the grace period.
“We have set aside the funds for debt servicing; the funds for the government’s operation and thirdly expenses for the infrastructure projects have also been set aside.”
The Prime Minister also referred to the Vaisigano Bridge project, funded by Japan.
“No government in the world would give us aid if they know we are unable to service our debts.”
Tuilaepa said the issue repeatedly raised by Olo shows he doesn’t have the skills to deal with money.
The Prime Minister put it to Olo that the project in Vaiusu coincides with the wharf in Asau.
“And obviously he thinks that the wharf in Asau is where the Chinese military will be docking their military ships. How can a military ship fit into the wharf in Asau?” Tuilaepa said.
“It is now clear this is one of the Savai’i residents interfering with the government infrastructures project developed for the betterment of our people. I urge you not to be narrow minded.”
Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, urged the M.P. to move away from the topic.
“There are 13 Cabinet Ministers and the C.E.O.s who are advising the government on the government projects and its operation; yet you’re the only one opposing,” said Speaker Leaupepe.
But Olo would not stop.
“My concerns are based on the advice given by the International Monetary Fund to the Prime Minister on how to run the Samoan government and this is a huge problem,” said the Salega M.P.
He pointed out that in 2016 the public debts were 40 percent of the G.D.P.
“However, nowadays the public debt is 53 percent of the G.D.P. and that is why the I.M.F. is highly concerned. We are now at the darkest valley of death and it is very concerning.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa immediately intervened. He reminded that Samoa has graduated from the least developing country status and its economy has only been improving since.