May 31, 2018

Samoa Education budget cut, Pacific Games get $11 million

Spending on education is set to be reduced by $14.7million (US$5.7 million) in the 2018/19 Budget tabled by the Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, in Parliament Tuesday

The $932.92million (US$364.879 million) budget was presented by the Minister for the first reading during a brief Parliament session at their makeshift complex at Tuana’imato, before they broke off for the celebration of Samoa’s 56th Independence Day on Friday.

Compared to $100.3million (US$39.1 million) allocated to education last year, this year’s allocation is $85.6million (US$33.4 million).

The Health Sector though is one of the winners, with a combined allocation for the Ministry of Health and National Health Services totaling $91.85million (US$35.9 million).

The Minister, who tabled the budget under the theme “The Right Path” wouldn’t say why the Education budget has been cut.

But the biggest expenditure that’s glaringly obvious, which was not part of last year’s budget consideration, is $11.0 million (US$4.3 million) allocated for the hosting of the Pacific Games in 2019.

“This is a significant amount which would have been available for education, health and even infrastructure if it weren’t for the Pacific Games,” Sili told Parliament. 

“But the Government has made the decision to host the Games which hopefully will lift the performance of our athletes. It is also expected the Games will contribute positively to GDP as a significant amount of resources will be directed at infrastructure development in preparation for the Games.”

According to the Minister, the total expenditures for 2018/19 is 1.7 per cent lower than last year due to 16 per cent drop in “development expenditures affected by the winding down and completion of the projects implemented during the current year.”

With total Revenues estimated at $849.48million (US$329.8 million), a deficit of $85.44million (US$33.2 million) is forecasted.

But the Minister is optimistic. 

He said the Budget continues the Government’s commitment to improve the quality of life for all Samoans and continues its commitment to equity.

“There is positive optimism in the economy over the medium term. It means businesses will enjoy an environment that creates opportunities for them to grow and to help create jobs for our people. It also means there will be fiscal space for government to provide the services required by our people,” he said. 

“But we should never lose sight of the fact that Samoa faces a number of risks. That underscores the need for the government to continue to put in place the policy framework that will ensure macroeconomic stability and fiscally responsible.”

The Minister also emphasised the importance of public sector reform. 

“Put simply, we must strive for the most efficient and effective public sector possible. Every tala spent on paying public servants is a tala we do not have to provide for schools or health centres. So every tala counts! We have seen progress over the years, but we can and must do better,” he said.

“In our Budget Statement two years ago, we spoke about the ways in which technology is making it possible for us to greatly improve efficiency. Let me repeat some of what we said then."

“With Ministries and Agencies having widespread and increasing access to improved technology we can and should expect and demand greater productivity and efficiency."

“Times have changed and ways of working have changed. Our public sector employees now work with computers, not typewriters and note books; through emails, not letters and memos; they use the internet, not libraries; they communicate with mobile phones; they use power tools and heavy machinery, not hand tools.” The key message is that we can and should do more with less because we now increasingly have better technology to support us and better ways of working.

“If we do not make the best use of new technology to improve efficiency and if we continue to do things the way “we have always done things”, we are just wasting money. That would not be seen as acceptable to our people. It would certainly not be acceptable to the Government.

“We have taken a number of initiatives to support and strengthen public sector reform. These all have the aim of reducing the cost of the public sector so that we can direct our resources to the benefit of the wider community. We have some way to go. We have heard messages from the community that some areas within the public sector are too slow, too process-driven, sometimes unhelpful, unresponsive and difficult to deal with, and unnecessarily slow to make payments to suppliers." 

“This is not the kind of reputation that we should tolerate. The term Public Service means just that. Its role is to provide service to the community – the best possible service at all times.”

On that note, Sili revealed that a review is underway into the role and functions of the Public Service Commission. 

“The Government sees the key function of the Commission as being to support the wider public sector to perform better,” he said. 

“We are moving to look at my own Ministry, the Ministry of Finance, to identify better and more flexible ways of supporting Ministries in the best use of their Budget appropriations." 

“This would mean streamlining and simplifying procedures and monitoring and reporting requirements – reducing the costs which Ministries face in working in 'the old ways'.” 

“We believe giving CEO's greater flexibility to manage their Ministries, and supporting and encouraging innovative thinking can contribute to stronger outcomes and increased efficiencies. Of course, this will also be accompanied by strong accountability requirements. CEO's will be held accountable for delivering outcomes in line with the expectations the Government has set,” he said.

SOURCE: SAMOA OBSERVER/PACNEWS
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