F.A.S.T. will focus on economic development
After several weeks of campaigning on the road, Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) Chairman La'auli Leuatea Schmidt says they have identified the top issues raised by voters across Samoa.
Improving the economic development of the country is top of that list, says La'auli in an interview with the Samoa Observer.
F.A.S.T. has already met with all the constituencies in Savai'i and are back on Upolu, consulting with remaining villages.
Since the start of their roadshow, the Chairman and party members have been listing down all the needs, wants, and concerns raised by the constituents and intend to use those concerns to improve the party's final manifesto which will be launched next month.
"Most of the concerns raised by the constituents are related to the economy and the financial side of things," Laauli told the Samoa Observer.
"The people have raised that the cost of living is expensive and not affordable for the citizens of the country.
"They have asked F.A.S.T. to come up with a plan to turn this around and make sure that we can afford the cost of living in Samoa, for all the families in the country.
"Some of the questions raised were: What is something new that we can come up with, and what can we do to assist the families?
"What are some of the developments we can turn to, to earn extra money for the individual families?
"Well we know everybody is entitled to land, but it may take some time to turn things around. But we want to push the agricultural sector as it is the backbone of any country's development.
He said F.A.S.T. wanted to encourage growth in the agricultural sector, with the hope that it will help sustain families and push them to earn more money.
"As you know in Samoa, we have so many obligations that require a financial contribution. We render our service to the village, families, church on top of paying bills for water, electricity, and education for our children.
"We also need to provide for our families, our children, take care of our elders and so many things that require money.
"But that one thing that gives them hope during times of difficulty is remittances. That's the one thing that keeps people going and is offering help for our families. They are depending on money from their families overseas to keep them going.
"However, since the whole world has been greatly affected, economically, our families overseas are also suffering."
Turning the party's attention to one of the key sectors of any developing nation, La'auli said improving the education sector and pushing for exclusive education within Samoa is another major concern raised during the community roadshows.
"A lot of people are not happy with the shortage of teachers. The problem is that there are more children in a classroom and there are not enough teachers to monitor and supervise the children. That's the main concern for them.
"Another concern raised by the constituents in relation to education is regarding school fees. Yes, education is free for most schools in the country, yet parents are still paying a huge amount of money for student registrations every term.
"The other concern is the cost of fees for students at the university level. That's why we have come up with the plan to have a student loan for our students at the university level. Some students are forced to drop out of school because the parents cannot afford to pay for the school fees."
Then there is health. The improvement of healthcare facilities, especially in the rural communities, is also on the party's agenda.
"In terms of health, there are many issues raised in terms of the shortage of doctors to run and look after the different district hospitals across the nation.
"There is also the ongoing problem of a lack of resources available at the different district hospitals such as beds, medications, and so forth.
"We have been taking notes of all the concerns raised by our people and we are considering their wishes and will include them in our manifesto."
On increasing the minimum wage, La'auli said it was the most common issue raised by communities.
"That's one area people are really pushing for, and we have been asked to come up with a plan to at least increase the minimum wage in the country.
"With all our hope, we intend to grant their wishes, but we can't promise too much and are waiting until we are elected to lead then we will consider that concern.
"Most people want to increase the minimum wage between $3.50-$5 tala.
But La'auli clarified that in the party's manifesto, they intend to push and encourage small businesses across the country with a proposal to set aside $200 million for small enterprise promotion.
"That's why a lot of people have backed our manifesto, agreeing to have some funding to assist our local markets and local produce within the rural areas.
"But as I said, we will not make any promises... we have not promised them we would increase the minimum wage."
"However, if they do give us their trust and support, we will consider all their wishes."