Debt, sob stories, truth and Church Ministers

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Here’s the good news. Give Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi some credit. He and his administration appear to be walking the talk about transparency, accountability and good governance. At last.

We are talking about the issue of Samoa’s growing foreign debt by the way.

Judging from what Tuilaepa has been saying, you kind of wonder what they are really up to. Gone are the days where they would go out of their way to refute, deny, rubbish and downplay any report about the ballooning debt which “official” figures place at $1.01 billion today. 

These days, they seem only too happy to talk about it. Take the story titled “Govt. has nothing to hide, P.M. says” published on the front page of the Weekend Observer. 

 “We don’t hide anything, everything is out in the open, you can get the figure from our Central Bank,” Tuilaepa told the media last week. “Even if it reaches many billions, we’ll still publicise it. Why? We’ve got nothing to hide.”

Well technically, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has no choice so of course they have nothing to hide. How can you hide something when it’s as clear as daylight that the Government is desperate to do anything to make money to pay this debt?

Folks, if they have gone as far as taxing Church Ministers, can they still afford to hide their desperation? We doubt it.

Now we can only guess that this is probably the reason the Government has suddenly changed its tune in relation to talking about the debt. This could be part of a ploy to get people – including those defiant church E.F.K.S. Ministers – to buy into the idea that everyone needs to pay taxes.

Firstly, P.M. Tuilaepa’s salary is slashed and then there is the bid to be transparent and accountable about the debt. Sob and heart-rending stories. Who wouldn’t feel sad?

Getting back to the Weekend Observer story in question, Prime Minister Tuilaepa went out of his way to justify the debt. As usual, he assuaged fears about the potential consequences.

 “Developments don’t wait until we collect enough revenues and then we do it. No if we were to do that, then we’ll have absolutely nothing,” he said. “We have a plan. A lot of the loans are from the world’s biggest banks where we are given between thirty to fourty years to pay them off. On top of that, there are also long grace periods, about five to ten years and the loans come with very small interest.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa added that there is a common misconception by some people that “we have to pay them all off by next year.” 

“This is not the case. The most important thing when it comes to loans is how much are we paying on an annual basis. That‘s how you measure the Government’s economic strength. 

“The second thing is that we have enough foreign reserves and we do.”

According to Tuilaepa, it is not the amount of the loan that matters. Rather it is the Government’s ability to meet its repayments.

“So I don’t why they keep bringing this up,” he said about the media coverage of the debt. 

Really Tuilaepa? What about the simple fact that members of the public – especially taxpayers who are paying for it – have every right to know? And why would the Government get uncomfortable about it in the first place? Unless they have something to hide?

But then Tuilaepa is a seasoned politician, a very smart one at that too.

Now listen to him: “The only good reason I can think of is so that people can appreciate and understand why the Government sometimes do things like ask the Head of State to pay his tax.

“See we ask the Head of State that since he’s got the highest salary (in Samoa), we will cut something from it so he can contribute to the development (of the country).”

The Prime Minister added that this is why it is critical that everybody pays their taxes.

“So the current Head of State, he just smiles and says thank you Tuilaepa for allowing me to contribute to the development (of Samoa). Even I pay taxes, and it is something that should be done to help with our developments.”

Well done P.M. Tuilaepa and his Highness the Head of State. Leading by example we see. But how about you take that a step further and tell us what is the country’s true foreign debt that has forced the Government to take the absolute desperate step of taxing “God’s representatives on earth” in Samoa? 

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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