Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has admitted that he is “getting old” to remember exactly how much Samoa owes China.
The 72-year-old Tuilaepa made the admission last week during a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in his office.
The issue of aid and China’s growing influence in the region had been discussed when Prime Minister Tuilaepa was asked how much Samoa owes China.
“Look, I am sorry I cannot give you that now,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa responded. “I am not the Minister of Finance anymore. And I am getting old.”
Pressed on the issue, Tuilaepa insisted that it is not the amount of the debt that matters. Rather it is the country’s capacity to pay the debt that is important.
“We first deduct the payment for our debts because in the debts you find the dignity of the leaders of this country infused in the debts, so we should never fail in our debts obligation,” he explained.
“And after meeting the debt liability, what is left is to meet the current expenditure to ensure that the government never stops."
“You know in America sometimes they close down shop because they run out of money. Here we make damn sure that the government should never be short."
“And after deducting that, meeting our debts, we still have money to meet our ongoing obligations to ensure that the government works smoothly and we still had a huge balance of over $100million to pay for our development, because it is very important in developing your budget expenditure every year.”
The Prime Minister insisted that a country must “always have enough to develop, because with development expenditure your G.D.P. is assured to go up not down.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa went on to downplay concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. He said everything in relation to Samoa is transparent.
“Now, I think this is something which many miss out on and that is the periodical consultations that we have with our donor partners,” he said.
“We have these periodical consultations with India, with the United States, with Japan and with China. The next meeting in May will be the eighth time that the consultation with Japan will take place and I have attended all the eight."
“Two years ago we had consultations with India, we had it in Fiji, and then the following year we had it in New Delhi."
“And we also have five years consultations with China."
“You will recall I think it was an O.E.C.D. meeting that was held in Australia and after that meeting both President Xi and the Prime Minister of India invited all the leaders of the Pacific to meet them in Fiji.”
At the time, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out their plans.
“It was in that meeting and all of you people were there, you know to hear the message from the President of China that they have earmarked for the next 5 years US$2billion for grants to the Pacific Islands and US$2billion for soft term loans."
“It means it’s all transparent, it’s all out in the open and you were all there to listen to these disclosures by China."
“So what we are following up are undertakings which were done in the open, nothing was hidden. So I think that should be quite clear. If you refer back two years ago to your news then you will find all those laid out in the open.”
The Prime Minister added that Samoa is only interested in what “was promised to us and we are following up in connection with our own development.”