A one-on-one with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi on the Budget 2015/2016 and ‘Living Within Our Means’

Savali:
You delivered the budget address in Parliament this week, with the overall theme of “living within our means”. Some might say the Government is admitting that it has been overspending.  What do you say to that?

PM:
The theme should be adopted by everyone. Prime_Minister_image1‘Living within our means’ is a responsible approach from a responsible government.  As I said in my address, we can’t continue the high-spending of the last five years, buffered by disaster-related grants from our partners. The theme also emphasizes the need to prioritize and re-prioritize, to ensure the most important developments are being implemented first. In the family context, each family has the responsibility to prioritize what they spend their money on. The Government isn’t forcing any old man to buy tobacco. If he wants to buy himself tobacco or maybe bottles of soft drink for his grandkids, we have a new hospital that will take care of them when the time comes! As I said in Parliament this week, we don’t meddle with anyone’s human rights, we protect them!

Savali:
So what about employment figures?  Why is there a drop?

PM:
There was a 0.2% reduction in employment figures in 2014 compared to 2013.  That’s less than a quarter of a percent.  Are you good at maths?  *laughs*
It’s actually not as alarming as some might think.  It’s simply because of Yazaki being scaled-down and in fact we haven’t included the employment opportunities through the Seasonal Workers scheme.  If we included those it will be a super increase.  Let me again remind you that Government is still working hard to create employment through attracting foreign investment opportunities, the fruits of which we’ve seen this week at the wharf with the new fishing company that’s just opened up there at Matautu.  We’re also working with Bumble Bee to establish a presence here, which will hopefully provide more than 300 jobs for our people and the numerous ongoing public works – which engaged our major roads and buildings contractors – generate employment opportunities for our people.  Further growth in government building projects means more jobs for the private sector.  So the Government isn’t resting on our laurels. We’re always pursuing opportunities for private sector development because that means one thing – more jobs for our people.

Savali:
Your Budget Address also introduced new health and renewable energy levies.   Won’t this just mean a higher-cost-of-living for the public?

PM
:
The effect of the health levy is two-pronged. What I mean by that is Government expects two useful outcomes from this levy – To encourage a healthier lifestyle where parents and children will have to think twice about spending their money on luxury items such as soft drinks or beer or tobacco, AND, for those who still insist on spending their money on these products the Government will collect revenue from you all to finance other projects that will benefit the country.
Two birds, one stone levy.

Savali:
And the renewable energy levy? Will the public have to fork out more for their electricity?

PM:
The short answer is no.  The global price of fuel is at its lowest right now and the experts say this trend will continue in to the next three years.  So the introduction of this levy is timely because as the global prices come down, the levy will be in place so fluctuations in price won’t necessarily be felt by the public.  So just to be clear, whilst the global price of fuel is expected to trend downwards – here in Samoa the public will not necessarily be paying more, or less. Looking ahead, this levy is going to ensure that Government can promote renewable energy developments so that in three years time our consumers can start enjoying sustainably lower costs from renewable energy sources.  We’re aiming to be run on 100% Renewable Energy by 2017!  A record change for any independent small island country.

Savali:
Looking at the deficit, are there too many loans being taken out and can we sustain this level of spending?

PM:
Loans are a reality of our time.  We must remember that without loans we wouldn’t be enjoying massively improved infrastructure and social services such as our new hospital at Motootua and new and refurbished rural hospitals.  Our children wouldn’t have new and better school buildings, our communities wouldn’t have better roads, safer bridges and more.  These are taken for granted because they are there, but just imagine what Samoa’s situation would be like without these facilities.  We’d be stuck as an underdeveloped nation with our future generations migrating overseas for better schooling and health services.

At the new hospital, we have state-of-the-art facilities to treat all those patients who stubbornly continue buying soft drinks, beer and tobacco.  So instead of sending them overseas for treatment, we are focusing on taking care of them in Samoa.  The reduced overseas medical treatment budget means we can bring the experts to us to treat our people here, using our equipment in our high-tech facilities.  This saves us millions of tala which can be redirected to other projects that need attention.  That’s how a responsible government works – by identifying the needs of the public, reprioritizing expenditure to reflect the best way forward for the country without compromising key services for everyone.  Samoa spends $10,000,000 yearly for treatment of our patients in New Zealand.  I am told that both Tonga and Fiji spend only $100,000 to send their patients for treatment in New Zealand.  In the new financial year we have cut down the budget for overseas treatment and allow our own doctors to start getting busy.

Savali:
If the Government is trying to create employment opportunities, encourage more responsible spending and living within our means, why are there complaints about the 2015/2016 budget?

PM:
It’s Election season.  A season when critics become feverishly stupid.

-End of Interview-

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