COMMENT: The Logic of the SOE Rules

Mid-afternoon downtown Apia under lock down.


By Afi’a Tuluvao


APIA, SAMOA – 29 APRIL 2020: The longer the SOE, the more I stumble over some interesting findings of how various people are affected by these rules based on how the law enforcers interpret them.

It is interesting to observe the logic used to determine the rationale of these rules. Based on social distancing, the inter-island boats are allowed 100 passengers and for the buses 20. In addition, the vessel can take a full load of cars. On the flip side of this rationale, church gatherings and any other public gatherings are prohibited due to social distancing. The rule implies you can sit in a boat with other 99 people for between 90 to 120 minutes but can only have 5 people in church or in a fale for the same reason. Where is the logic? or what has happened to common sense?

“Unfair for the poor bus owners from an economic perspective, unfair for the church goers from a spiritual perspective and unfair for the village councils from a cultural perspective.”

Fair and profitable for the SSC, and Government workers who no longer drive or bus to work since they are now picked up from home and delivered to their respective offices. So, it looks like fair for the Government agencies and its workers and hard luck to the private sector and communities.

Lock-down early afternoon at an empty Fugalei bus depot

Confusion and Financial Disadvantage
Lately, the supermarket and shop rules keep changing and have actually caused a lot of confusion and of course financial disadvantage to many if not all small owners.
So long as you stand outside of the shop with the counter as barrier and that you can’t touch the goods, then that is what the Police call a shop. For small outlets that have a counter a meter inside and you still can’t touch the goods, then according to Police, that is a supermarket. The difference is where the buyer stands and not the touching issue – if you stand outside then it’s a shop, if you stand inside it’s a supermarket. Interesting to know how the Police and the Council defines what we ordinary people know as a supermarket. Maybe a new definition will be announced in the next phase.  

Confusion over a small walk-in shop and a supermarket resulted in this small shop owner being fined.

Some form of educational dialogue?
The Police have been unnecessarily hard on the small business operators – the very people who are suffering from these rules and is uncalled for. One would have thought that given the circumstances and that everyone is trying their best to accommodate and get used to the new rules that some form of educational dialogue be part of the Police routine so that these operators are spared the pain of being financially compromised just because they are trying to earn some money to pay their workers and bring food to the table of many people. Not only their businesses are running at a loss, but imposing of huge nonsensical fines have made them worse off than before. These are the same group that did not receive any sweets from the so called stimulus package.

Heavy-handed treatment of bus owners
It is time for the bus owners to form a strong body to counter the heavy handed treatment being levied unnecessarily by the Government. In most developed countries, the public transport system – mainly buses are operated by the State as it’s an essential service. Samoa is fortunate enough that the private sector is taking on this service which has very high risks. So when the SOE rules stated no buses allowed, wouldn’t it be fair that some form of repatriation be considered like what is given to others? The least the Government could do is provide some subsidy given the treatment it had imposed if it’s not willing to raise the fares for a limit of 20 passengers. A $100 tala fine for just one passenger overload is equivalent to 20 years’ imprisonment in terms of intensity of impact on the poor owner since that overload passenger’s fare is probably $2 tala and even the whole 21 passengers cannot even make half of the $100 fine – where is justice in this rationale?

Come next week, lets have another look at the new set of rules and I can almost guess who the winners and the losers will be.

Lock-down social distancing at a Beach Road crossing