Minister Lautafi Fio Purcell’s conciliatory tone on an issue that could have disastrous consequences if not handled with extreme care, is a breath of fresh air.
At a time when emotions in relation to the Asian influx to Samoa are running on overdrive, we need leaders with cool heads. And the Minister’s response is a reminder that a “soft answer always turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
Indeed, the old proverb is something our leaders would do very well to remember in times like this. Perhaps Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi could take a leaf from Minister Lautafi’s book and use it. In fact he would have spared himself a whole lot of trouble during the now infamous 60 Minutes interview if he had taken Lautafi’s approach.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to swallow your pride and accept that we don’t have all the answers. We are humans and every new day is an opportunity to learn something new. It goes without saying that mistakes help us be better as they are all opportunities to grow.
Last week, local businessman Nu’uausala Sionaia expressed concerns about the influx of foreigners – mainly Asians – who are taking over local stores. In speaking up, Nu’uausala became the latest Samoan to join the growing chorus of unhappy locals about the issue. They have a point.
“I know the Prime Minister says that we are racist every time someone raises this issue but I can’t stay here and keep my mouth shut when we are sinking,” he said. “This is not good for us local people because if this continues then where are we going to go? How are we going to survive, feed our families and provide for the many fa’alavelaves we have?”
Nu’uausala said the issue is one the government should take very seriously.
“There have to be proper laws to guide what these new businesses can and cannot do. I think it would be good if they only do business around town because this is where most people live. They can still make a lot of money there but give us the chance to make some money in our own villages.”
The businessman added that he is worried about his children.
“I look at my children and my heart cries out because if this continues then my children, my children’s children and the future generations of Samoa will live in poverty because all these foreigners are taking everything.
“This is what the government should really look at because if they keep allowing the Asians to set up their businesses everywhere else in Samoa, then in the future we will be eating grass while they live happily on our land.”
Nu’uausala has a legitimate point. We’re sure many other Samoans would agree with him. Which is naturally what you’d expect given such circumstances.
Besides, the issue is not confined to Samoa. The worry is that elsewhere in the Pacific, such sentiments have resulted in riots and strife. We don’t want that in Samoa and we pray that such a day will never arrive.
Which is why Minister Lautafi’s response comes as such a relief.
“I feel for those (local business) people because it’s quite obvious,” Lautafi told the Sunday Samoan. “It doesn’t take long for a Chinese shop to come in then (local) business goes out.”
That said, the Minister then assured that he would meet with the Commerce sector to discuss the issue.
“The government wants to attract foreign investors to provide services and employment but at the same time we don’t want to develop an environment where local businesses or entrepreneurs just cannot compete,” he said.
From his observation, Lautafi described Asian retailers as “ruthless in business.”
“They are in your face suggesting things you should buy,” he said. “They are business orientated people. They make sure you will not go out of the shop without buying something and its part of their business ethics that draws people to their shops.
“That is the philosophy that has not clicked on our people. As opposed to our shops you go inside and they look at you as if they don’t want you there.”
The Minister could not have been more accurate about this point. So what advice would he give to local business people in the meantime?
“This is the modern world. We need to look at ways we can improve our service, presentation and make people feel welcome to the shops.
“Service can turn one person from another shop seeing that you are happy. The other thing is profit. Chinese go for the marginal profit but if you sell thousands of those goods, your profit becomes very big but our people want to sell one thing and get that much profit from it.”
Lautafi added that the Asians are gifted business people and they have been doing this for thousands of years.
“But our people are still learning to grow,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that our people should be disadvantaged because personally I still want to see more of our businesses up there.”
Again, we couldn’t agree more with the Minister. Love them or loathe them, we know the Asians are naturally gifted with business skills and acumen. It is something they are born with. And whether we like it or not, they are here to stay. Just like how our people have made other countries their home.
What we need is a conciliatory attitude, one where we can use the gifts they have to make our lot better.
Let’s also be realistic, with everything in life, something will have to give, it will come at a cost. Still, we must open our eyes to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits.
It’s not going to be easy but this is a conversation that we need to start. And the government, through Minister Lautafi, has indicated that they are willing to take the lead. Which is a great start.
Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!