Wouldn’t it just be wonderful if the “millions” wasted through corruption could be used to raise the minimum wage instead?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Nafo’itoa Talaimanu Keti, raised a legitimate point in Parliament last week. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his leadership should take a moment to hear him out.

Speaking during the discussion of the Supplementary Budget, Nafo’itoa highlighted the plight of workers in Samoa who are paid at the minimum wage of $2.30 per hour. 

The former senior Police officer is a man who knows a thing or two about justice given his experience in the past. But when it comes to the issue in question, he knows it is daylight robbery, especially since it involves some of the poorest people in this country today.

So irritated by it, Nafo’itoa couldn’t sit back. So he urged Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration to increase the minimum wage.

“Considering the entire surplus that’s been discussed, isn’t it time for the Government to increase the minimum wage?” he asked.

“This issue has been raised by the public and this is our duty as Members of Parliament to address the issues, consult and find a solution to the problem. 

“Many low income families have only one person working and yet they have numerous obligations, not only to their children, but church, villages and families.” 

We couldn’t agree more. It sure sounds like the Deputy Speaker has been reading the Village Voice section of your newspaper. There is not a single day where ordinary families and individuals are calling for help simply because their incomes – if they have any at all - cannot match the high cost of living. At a lousy $2.30 an hour, we can understand.

We are talking about mothers who have responsibilities to their children, fathers who are the lone breadwinners for their families and children who are trying their best to help their folks. This is before we even get into this country’s unending love affair with those fa’alavelaves. 

Interestingly enough, not everyone in Parliament supported the call by Nafo’itoa. Former Finance Minister, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, opposed the call saying it would have a negative impact on the business community.

“The minimum wage is actually that, the minimum,” he said. 

“But that does not stop the employer from paying a much higher salary to the workers as there is no gap. 

“If the Government does move to increase the minimum wage, the employer will have no choice but to lay off employees to cover the increase. This means people will be laid off.”

Faumuina too has a valid point. 

The problem is some employers are using this as an excuse to continue to milk their workers while paying them absolute peanuts. This in our opinion is exploitation and abuse. 

Come to think of it, perhaps Faumuina should get out of his air-conditioned car and try walking in those people’s shoes for a while. Let him toil for a day or two in the hot sun only to get paid $18.40 a day. How would he feel?

Mind you, if he didn’t waste more than half a million tala on an office that has now become absolutely useless to taxpayers, maybe that money could have gone to help some of these people. 

But then again, what does he know about suffering and hardship? What does he know about living off the minimum wage?

The issue of raising the minimum wage is nothing new. It has been debated time and time again. Truth be told, some high-ranking officials in the public and private sector with their conscience intact will know that some of these people are being robbed when it comes to their wages. For years, they have had to put up with this daylight robbery. 

Imagine how demoralising it must be to open that brown envelope at the end of the week only to find a few talas after all that trouble at work? Some of them are out in the sun all day, having to put up with some of the most trying working conditions.

Regardless of the circumstances, you would agree that when we look at the minimum wage of $2.30 an hour compared to the cost of living, this is immoral. It is wrong on every level. 

Of course there is a very strong case against it. And over the years, every time the case for an increase is made, the government is forever blaming the private sector’s ability to absorb the costs involved. 

Fair enough. It has to be said that we cannot ignore this critical factor. The private sector after all is supposed to be the engine of growth for the economy, which means that any proposal that could hamper its ability to do that must be thought out properly before it is implemented. 

The key issue here is the ability of the private sector to find the money to fund and absorb an increase without the need to downsize and close shop.

We’ve said this before. From our standpoint, the government can do a lot to help the private sector accommodate the plan. One of the first things it must do is revisit those taxes that are crippling the business sector. 

In this country today, our businesses are being taxed to the bone. This is on top of the countless compliance costs and other administration costs these poor businesses have to comply with simply to keep going. And as if they’re not paying enough taxes already, they are then hit again – along with everyone else – by that menace called the V.A.G.S.T. 

Ladies and gentlemen, every time this government talks about the private sector, it is forever harping on about creating an enabling environment for the private sector to flourish. Is that happening? 

We doubt it. We say this because if the private sector were flourishing, we wouldn’t be left with such sorry unemployment figures. 

But then it’s not hard to see why. Has anybody stopped to ask the local business community about how much suffering they have had to endure because of electricity costs? We talk about creating an enabling environment for businesses to flourish and yet the cost of some of the basic utilities are outrageous. How can they grow under such circumstances? 

Think of the tourism industry and the many hardworking members of the hotel industry pouring their hard-earned money to develop their properties based on the promise of tourism becoming the mainstay of the economy. Isn’t it sad that so many of them cannot sleep at night because they cannot pay their loans given the decline in tourists visiting Samoa?

The point is that it’s all very well for the government to blame the private sector for holding back an increase in the minimum wage. But maybe if the government does its job in creating an enabling environment for the private sector to flourish, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

After all, think of the “millions” wasted through mismanagement, abuse of power and corrupt practices within the government that could help the private sector absorb an increase in the minimum wage. 

Have a pleasant weekend Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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