Samoa PM Calls UN Definition Of Poverty 'Stupid'

Forum Leaders Group forms expert committee to find Pacific Islands relevent poverty formula

By Lanuola Tupufia – Ah Tong 

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Sept. 30, 2016) – The Pacific Island Forum Leaders Group has appointed a committee of experts to come up with a formula to measure poverty in the Pacific. 

This was confirmed by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who has just returned from the Pacific Leaders Group Forum in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Tuilaepa told the media that poverty in the Pacific is different with poverty in other countries. 

He said the current formula used by the United Nations to measure poverty in countries like Africa is irrelevant to the Pacific.

“So the Pacific Leaders Group has instructed experts to prepare a formula to measure poverty in the Pacific,” said Tuilaepa.  

“The current formula measures poverty in countries like Africa. I had asked the head of the Bureau Statistics about the formula used and he said the formula is used to measure the average poverty in the world which is if one person does not have $400 a week it means they are poor.”

Tuilaepa said such a formula is ridiculous, considering the reality of life in the Pacific. 

He used an example of a person who is married at the age of 17 and had five children by the age of 21. 

According to Tuilaepa if the current formula is used, it means the family of seven people including five children would need to have an average of about $2,400 a week in terms of earning. 

“It’s very stupid,” he said. 

Tuilaepa said claims that poverty exists in the Pacific are so foolish because people are suffering from illnesses caused by eating too much food. 

“The disease we are suffering from is too much food,” he said. 

“The reason why people are poor is because they want to be poor.” 

The Prime Minister also addressed concerns about the lack of markets for taro exports.

Over the years, he pointed out that people had always complained about not having enough markets.

But now, he said, there are plenty of markets but not enough taro to supply it.

“We have a big market for our taro now but not enough taro,” he said. 

“But who plants them? 

"It’s our people especially those in the rural area. 

"What’s happening is true about what someone said that people have eyes but don’t see, they have ears and don’t listen and have nose yet don’t smell…” 

Samoa Observer
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It is unfortunate that neither the Prime Minister nor the Samoa Observer appear to have bothered to read the recently published analysis of the 2013/14 household income and expenditure survey; and I am sure the PM must have misunderstood the advice given to him by the Government Statistician. According to the recent poverty report on Samoa, published by the Samoa Statistics Bureau and UNDP, the basic-needs poverty line is equal to about SAT60 per capita per week (of which about SAT35 was for food and SAT25 for all other weekly expenses); this would be equivalent to about SAT420 per week for a family of seven. It should be remembered that this amount includes the value of all own-produced food that is consumed by the family, and also includes the value of gifts/remittances given and received. These figures come from the people of Samoa themselves and provide a clear indication of what they spend each week, what they spend it on and how much they need to have a minimum standard of living in the context of Samoa. Pacific poverty, or hardship as it is usually described, certainly has more dimensions than simply income or expenditure; but everyone needs to have a minimum level of consumption which can either be grown for own consumption or has to be earned in income to pay for things that cannot be provided from own resources. Governments around the region should take note of the number of their people who are estimated to be living below their respective national basic-needs poverty lines (it averages an estimated 20-25% of the population across the Pacific region) and put in place policies and social protection measures that will help these families to either get into employment or provide the most disadvantaged with support. The PM is right, however, to note that not enough taro is being planted to satisfy markets, but as a previous Samoan minister of agriculture noted, the problem is that too many young men are now being encouraged to pick fruit in New Zealand and Australia under the RSE and SWP programmes rather than work in domestic plantations. It is estimated that, currently, there are about 10,000 active participants in the two schemes; this is equivalent to a considerable amount of potential lost domestic production. Personally I don't think am export committee is needed to come up with a new formula, what is needed is for more people to read and understand the many reports and analyses that have been produced over the years to describe hardship, basic-need poverty and vulnerability in the region and for governments to incorporate these issues into policy discussions. I would commend the leaders of Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Palau, Marshall Islands, PNG and FSM to read the reports on poverty and hardship that have been produced for their respective countries. These will give them a very good picture of how the data from household surveys and population census can provide very interesting and useful information on the status of the living conditions of their populations.

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