As the Government’s $66.3 million tala stimulus package was being debated and mostly praised in Parliament by various MPs, a handicraft stall owner at the Savalalo market in central Apia was counting the $5 tala he managed to earn in sales for the day.
Mareko Mareko of Vaitele Uta and Aleipata used to make gross sales of $150 tala per day on average.
The experienced small business owner reminds the writer that he trades in goods, and these amounts are his sales, not profits, “Magakua lelei oe, e lē o se kupe mamā lega, ae o le faakau.”.
“But now, it’s dead here at Savalalo, noone is buying,” he says.
Since the necessary lockdowns and border restrictions imposed to stop the coronavirus from entering Samoa, Mareko’s gross earnings have dropped by more than 97% – to an average of $20 tala per week says the father of five.
“For two days last week, my children and I went home with nothing! no sale for the entire day,” said Mareko.
When Samoa Global News visited the long-time market stall owner at about 3.30pm on Tuesday afternoon, his children were packing up the stall in line with the 4pm curphew imposed by Samoa’s coronavuris state of emergency orders.
Mareko sat grimly on a bench in an empty Savalalo marketplace and pulled out a $5 tala note to show us what he had earned that day.
“The stall costs $10 tala per day, and I only made a sale of $5 tala!” he exclaims.
“Ua leiloa poo ai kagaka e omai e koe faakau, Ua makuai oki lava le mea lea ua iai”.
“O lea la matou te faatalitali i le Malo poo lea se latou laveaiga o matou i le mea lea ua iai le taimi nei.”
The 59 year old has been operating a stall at the Savalalo market for over 30 years. He started when he was in his 20s, and says his clients have been tourists, visiting Samoans as well as locals.
Handicraft sales are high during times of festivals, conferences, sporting events and matai bestowals, and is generally steady throughout the year. The coronavirus shutdown has stopped all such events and activities, meaning no income for his small business.
Suppliers for Mareko’s stall include mothers working from home – all part of Samoa’s extensive informal sector. He is now unable to buy any more from them.
“This is our livelihood, this is how I have been able to earn a living for my family, for my children, and for my church and village obligations,” he said.
Referring to his days’ earnings of $5 tala, the Vaitele-Uta resident says transport costs since the lockdown has also been a struggle.
“With no buses, we have no choice but to catch taxis to work. He sarcastically adds that taxis could be asked to take them for a certain amount and then drop them on the side of the road to walk the rest of the way.
“Ai seiloga e tuu le $5 tala i le ave taavale, ma aioi iai, e ave si toeaina i le mamao e loto iai, ona tuu loa lea o a’u, ou te savali i le matou aiga”.
Mareko says taxi drivers have been carrying the burden of their transport costs, because they allow IOUs, but says that is unfair to taxi owners who are aslo struggling at this time.
“E leai foi ni tupe a nai ave taavale ia, o lā foi e moomia e latou le tupe mo pegisigi”.
On the same day, Parliament held a special sitting to receive the second supplementary budget of this financial year; a stimulus package aimed to cushion the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic, likened to a Social and Economic Tsunami, says the Hon Minister of Finance in his address.
Sili Epa Tuioti in presenting the supplementary budget said, “The social welfare and prosperous future of any nation therefore relies heavily on the policy actions and decisions to be made by its leaders. It is our belief that the solutions to ensuring the future of this nation lies within our borders and we have at our fingers the necessary tools to ensure smooth sailing for our economy that will secure a quality of life for every citizen”.
But Mareko Mareko says the stimulus package is unfair and he feels that it does not distribute funds to families like his who are affected by the coronavirus shutdown.
He gives the NPF pensioners as an example, with the stimulus package offering a one-off $300 tala to be added to the usual $145 received by all those who are 65 years and above.
“O le matua’i le fair lava;
“O le matou aiga, e leai se isi e pegisioge. Ae o le isi aiga e toalua. O lona uiga, e 445 ma le 445, e $990 talā le tupe latou te maua, ae leai matou nei e aafia”.
Told that there is a nationwide benefit from the 10 sene reduction in the price of electricity and a 20 sene reduction in water rates for the next 6 months, Mareko was not impressed.
He said such discounts are of no use to him if he is unable to get money in the first place, to pay his bills.
“And what exactly am I going to pay the electricity and water bill with? when I don’t have any income?”, he says with a tinge of anger in his voice.
“Ae faapefea ona totogi lena cashpower ma lena pili o le vai, o lea e leai ni tupe o maua?”
In his view, there are many areas that do not apply to a micro level business owner like him.
The benefits should be evenly distributed to help all citizens of Samoa.
“E tatau ona faasafua le seleni lena mo tagatanuu uma o Samoa; ia tatala le avanoa mo matou nei ua lē toe maua se seleni, e maua mai ai se faamamaavega e mafai ai ona tausi matou aiga”.
Reminded that his small business would benefit from the Samoa Land Corporation offer of 2 months free rent for all tenants of Savalalo market, Mareko says 2 months is not enough and asked if that was backdated to March.
“Does that include March? Because it started to get very slow from the beginning of March. So if that starts in April, then the question is, how do I pay for March?”.
After 30 years as a ‘block owner’ Mareko is now unable to meet his daily payment of $10 tala per day to the Samoa Land Corporation.
“O lea la e omai ma invoice, ae ou fai atu iai, e leai se mea e totogi atu, auā e leai ni matou faatau o maua”.
Others with blocks at the market shared similar stories.
The government’s stimulus package sets aside $20.3 million for Samoa’s health sector response including the construction of ‘negative pressure rooms’, $12.5 million targeted to enable the private sector, and $27.5 million dedicated to secure the purchasing power of citizens of Samoa. There is also $3.5 million allocated to the Agriculture sector that includes support for SROS and $2.5 million to assist other response sectors of government.
Calming down a little, Mareko says he will remain faithful to God, and with Easter coming up, he looks forward to the celebration of the resurrection of his Lord and Saviour.
“Ia tatou faamoemoe ia i Le Atua, ma tālia le faamanatuina o le toe tu mai o le tatou faaola”.
Adding the typical Samoan sense of humour, Mareko and others around started to poke a little fun at the bloopers and blunders during the parliamentary debates, where bible verses were misquoted several times by Members of Parliament.
“Pau lava la le isi mea, ou te faalogo atu i le matou sui mai Aleipata Itupa i Lalo, o lena e faamanuia mai le Esoto ae le o le Eseta!” Mareko said smiling again.
“Ma le Ioane e 3 faiupu e 16 ua maitau uma e le fanau, ae fai mai le faipule ua fiu e sue i lana Tusi Paia,” jokes Mareko.