Why P.M. Tuilaepa’s comments are irresponsible and condescending

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Here is the cold hard truth. The Government, starting from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, should feel duty bound to ensure every living soul in Samoa has access to clean drinking water. 

That access must come through systems installed by the Government, and paid for by taxpayers and monies from development partners, which this country has plenty of. 

Here is the thing; access to clean drinking water should be a matter of human rights. No ifs or buts. And why must the Government be held responsible, some people might ask. The answer is quite simple.

It is the Government’s job to ensure all Samoans, wherever they are, have access to these basic utilities: water, electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure. That is what they are there for and it is why they are paid those hefty sums of monies. In other words, it is their job. 

Anything less therefore is not good enough.

Which is why we find the attempt by the Prime Minister, to pass the buck in terms of his Government’s responsibility to the people of this country, both odd and wrong.

We are referring to a story titled “Water shouldn’t be an issue for poorest, says P.M.”, which was published on page 7 of yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer.

The story in question says the Prime Minister believes it is “ridiculous” to suggest there are Samoan people without water, pointing out that families should not be struggling, given the “abundance of water” in the country. 

Said Tuilaepa: “In Samoa, we have so much water. It would be ridiculous to say nobody has any water to drink, especially in this rain. Long ago, when we did not have pipes, what we did in our villages, there is a thing called tufu along the beaches. All you do is dig and spring water comes in. That is the value of local knowledge. In every village, there is a tufu.”

Really? After all these years in power — close to 40 years that is — and this is what the leader of the H.R.P.P. has to tell the people of Samoa? 

What is the Prime Minister suggesting here? That everyone returns to the tufu to find drinking water? 

Now let’s park here a minute, and think about the claim that there is an abundance of water, in the country. That might be true, but a lot of that water is not safe for consumption. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a lot of the water is not safe to drink.

It is irresponsible therefore for the leader of this country to say such a thing. Besides, someone needs to remind him that this is 2019, where people are communicating on messenger and video calling. To suggest that people revert to the tufu, especially people living inland whose struggle for water is extremely real, is ludicrous and outrageous. Such statements are irresponsible and should be called out for what it is.

Here is another interesting issue raised in the story in question. Told about the plight of so many Samoans calling for water tanks, especially people living far away from the Samoa Water Authority’s main lines, Prime Minister Tuilaepa again passed the buck to Samoans living overseas. 

“We have been sending people since 1982 overseas, so almost every family will have relatives working overseas that can contribute to the development of their families here,” Tuilaepa said.

The fact is that Samoa today will not be where it is — without the support and help from these families. And many of them do supply water tanks from time to time. During the past few weeks, when many of them have been to Samoa for the Christmas and New Year holidays, many would have bought water tanks — among other appliances — to help their families. 

But again that is beside the point. 

The goal of the Government should be to cater for everyone, regardless of the circumstances — in this case access to water. In doing that, we accept that they have limitations and challenges, which is part of life. 

We also accept there are some families who could do a better job to help themselves. Some of these families happily abuse clean drinking water, when it is available to them, and then come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they cannot pay the bill. This issue is quite common and some of these people unfortunately cannot be helped.

But overall, let us remind here once again that the Government, starting from Prime Minister Tuilaepa, has a responsibility to provide every Samoan with clean drinking water. It doesn’t matter where they live. To suggest now that people revert to the tufu or call up their relatives overseas is not just irresponsible, it is condescending. 

Have a pleasant Thursday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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