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PM: ‘There’s no poverty in Samoa’

Tuesday 1 September 2015 | Published in Regional


APIA – There’s no poverty in Samoa. So says Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who has rejected a segment of the first State of Human Rights Report for Samoa about poverty in his country.

He said the report is “foolish”.

Compiled by the Office of the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution the report says one in every five Samoans lives in poverty.

“Despite progress in big picture economic growth and within high level development framework, there is disparity in development outcomes particularly in rural and remote areas,” a copy of the report reads.

“Approximately 20 per cent of Samoa’s population lives below the basic needs poverty line with the higher proportion of rural populations falling below the poverty line. Basically, this means that about one in every five Samoans lives in poverty.”

Asked to comment, Samoa’s outspoken prime minister rubbished the report.

“That is based on palagi thinking,” the Prime Minister said in relation to poverty.

“It’s based on ideas from Africa. It’s a foolish thought based on the idea there’s not enough food and income. That’s such foolish thinking for Samoa.”

The prime minister said the writers of the report have taken the definition of poverty by African countries and have run with it. He said this is wrong and it is why he had instructed them to write the report from a Samoan context.

Poverty, according to Tuilaepa, is defined as someone who is so poor they walk around without clothes.

“They’re naked all the time,” he said. “Have you seen someone like that in Samoa? If the answer is no, then there is no one living in poverty in Samoa. There is no one walking around on the road naked.”

Tuilaepa went on to say that the sort of poverty the report highlights refers to “skinny people” who don’t have food.

“In Samoa, what’s happening is that there are a lot of mangoes, pawpaws rotting all over the place. There are lots of coconuts – they are all food, good food that provides vitamins.

“I have never heard about anyone in Samoa who has died because they have become so skinny from the lack of food.”

Another sign of poverty, according to the prime minister, is when parents don’t send their children to school because they cannot afford school fees.

“Some parents can lie about this and say there’s no money so they can get some help,” he said. “And we’ve reached that point now with a free education scheme. So if someone says they have no money as a reason for not sending children to school anymore, it reflects how much of a liar they are.”

Tuilaepa also spoke about the issue of health.

He said poverty exists when people are sick and there are no medications.

“What’s happening is that there are so many hospitals,” he said. “When it comes to education, we have so many school buildings. So there is no poverty.”

The report, which Prime Minister Tuilaepa launched, delves into community health, sanitation, climate change, religion, mental health, freedom of speech among other issues.

Among the recommendations in the report is one for the village councils and churches to consider alternative ways to minimise cultural and religious financial obligations, particularly for financially vulnerable community members.