The Samoa Files

All about money, again By: Dennis A Smith, 3 January 2011-23:12:49

The lure of money is subtle, and multifaceted. In another Sermon from Samoa, I share my concerns about how focussing on monetary matters trips even the best of us up in God's economy. I'll start though with one of my favourites - politics and money, yes you guessed it . . . in Samoa!

Samoan horseThe political landscape in Samoa is unique. Initially a village system of government, Samoa adjusted to German rule, then New Zealand rule and embraced Westminster style government in 1962. It is an interesting combination and as usual, money talks.

SURPRISE! No Samoa bashing today!

[Pic: Samoan horse in a beautiful glade under the shelter of a perfect conical mountain. The peace in this oasis was identifiable, measureable, sense-able and extraordinary. The land owner offered it to us free to build for whoever we wanted to come and stay as often as they wanted. Pure simple generosity based on his love of the land. Spell-binding; and not a mention of money - not a cent! THAT is the true Samoan hospitality.]

I've got a friend who is running for parliament in the 2011 Samoa elections.

I hope that he gets in but I doubt that he will. The reason I think this - no surprise to regular readers here - is money, or in this case a lack of money.

The general sentiment with Westernised ex-pat Samoans is that the government is corrupt. Many from both within and outside of Samoa claim that current Prime Minister Tuila'epa is a dictator or a bully and corrupt to the core. Others accuse election candidates of buying votes.

To some extent the claims are definitely correct. I have personally experienced quite considerable activity within government circles that would not pass scrutiny in the Western world - racism, incompetence, corruption, nepotism and more. Tuila'epa constantly rejects outright claims of acting as a dictator or a bully but I think the phrase benevolent dictator within a democracy might be less easy to defend, as he certainly has a strong majority and effective total control. Buying votes in Samoa is an expected and one could say "normal" process here, but so too is buying loyalty in everything here. Jobs and money are so scarce that bribes and backhanders and nepotism is the norm.

I was chatting to the PM about his electioneering and processes a while back and how and what the people expected of him (money-wise, or bribe-wise). The Samoan electioneering system is (as with all things Samoan) steeped in history, culture and . . . yes you guessed it . . . money!

As I understand it the end of a 5-year term MPs are awarded a bonus, a final payout if you will that is 'conveniently' giving the incumbent a distinct cash advantage just at the most appropriate time to bribe be used for electioneering purposes. At the appointed time they all conduct a final fling for their supporters, in which "business" is done Samoan style. Lot's of "Thank you for your supports" and of course if they are standing again, quite a bit of WIIFM*!

Maybe just a hint of sarcasm or conspiracy theory around these comments?

So the PM explained that in his own situation he inherited an electorate whose previous candidate had a history of lower expectations from the people. He had simply carried on the practice of the previous MP, and refusing requests from his constituents to pay for their power bills and school fees and so on.

He's lucky! In any other electorate aspiring MPs must offer more than the incumbent and this can be quite a pretty penny.

So to put it from a Western mindset, the PM only "bribes" a little and only on good things!

The rules are quite clear however, and after a certain cutoff date there shall be no bribes gifts. I've been told that MPs found to have broken the rules are dismissed forthwith and that standards are very tight after the cut-off date. So here you have it . . . do your thing up to the cutoff date but NOT after it.

Should outsiders claim, as mentioned above, that Samoa is corrupt and that votes are bought, they should also understand that the giving of gifts (back and forth) is an entrenched Samoan custom that is highly structured in funerals and other social occasions and has been for centuries. I'm sure that Taito Philip Fields was a victim of cultural mis-interpretation to some degree, although that is still no excuse for skullduggery or twisting facts after the event.

I met my friend who is standing this term in town one day at a car yard. He was trying to sell his car to raise funds for the "campaign". His heart was in the right place but his pocket is light. He says "My village is behind me" but I've seen it before here - a village can change its loyalty in the blink of an eye when there is a bit of moola thrown around. He told me last week that he was up to $31,000.00. And the use - buying loyalty from the people who expect him as the Major and MP wannabe to cough up so that they will vote for him.

I don't want to sound too down on the money thing - there is loyalty here, especially among families, and the issues do count for something as well but in a country where money and more particulary the lack of money are sky-high in the peoples' consciousness, money talks.

While it would be neat to have a mate in parliament, my money this time is on the incumbent MPs - two pretty powerful businessmen who have been there quite a while. If I'm wrong well then the support I gave him by printing and laminating all his flyers will have been worth it and he can buy me a Vailima and I'll say "Sorry, you did it and I was wrong and I expect you to look after me when you're in Parliament!"

So the thing that really upset me today was a blog post from a Kiwi that I really respect. Actually a Tall Skinny Kiwi to be precise. He's a guy who seems to have been into the alternative church scene decades before me and has more world famous mates on his blogroll than I have mates at all. But he ticked me off today and it's the subtle little throw-away line wher the mighty dollar is seen as an answer (especially in christian circles) that winds me up every time . . .
Moolala is a brand new internet company just launched by my friends in Texas. I have mentioned Tony and Felicity Dale [house2house] before on this blog. They are medial doctors who are involved in global mission movements and hope this new company, started by them and their two sons, will give away huge amounts to mission as well as saving people like you and me some cash in our online purchases.

It's nice to grizzle about something not Samoan for a change so here goes:

  • I clicked on the link they gave me - it forces me to enter my email before I can get inside. Sorry guys - not good! I didn't give it to them of course and will be another bounced statistic on their reports.
  • Then they tell me that I am in Samoa and I doubt that they've got deals down here. I can give them some deals if they want it but who would want to invest into a business on the other side of the world when Samoa's target market is primarily New Zealand and Australia. (Actually their IP sniffing is much better than their opposition - Groupon says I'm in Honolulu!)
  • Then I sneaked around and got in to their website sideways without giving them my email and found out that it was another "group-on" clone. No problem with that but I began to recall the days when New Zealand was going nuts over the TradeMe sale. Everyone wanted us web developers to do the same thing and make them copy-cat auction websites and make us all gazillions! Nobody ever did because as I explained in my book Lipstick on a Pig, its all about timing! Copying doesn't work. Look I hope these guys make it big but I'm not holding my breath.
  • Now I get onto the part that really saddens me - a guy I respect enormously appears to have dropped the ball. He's into the money thing saying "hope this new company ... will give away huge amounts to mission" - ouch!
Please let me detail my combined learning about money contrasting what I see is a Christian perspective with a standard "wordly" perspective.

In a crude business sense an increase of money is the goal. We resource projects with cash (investment). We trade with money coming and going (cashflow) and we hope to have plenty at the end of the day to splash about (profit). We all do it and there is no problem with any of this per se.

But enter the Christian faith aspect to the whole equation and things are remarkably different, or at least they should be. Money is not the goal of a Christian's walk, even a Christian businessman's walk. It is all about relationship. God resources His people when they are in need and according to His plans and purposes, and setting big blobs of money infront of us (either giving or receiving) is not my understanding of how He wants to work with us.

It's a deep and important subject but the idea that A company would do B business to profit from C Charlies to support D Missionaries is NOT how I see God wanting to work.

I could spend a week talking about it and there are always horses for courses but the lessons I have learned from working in Samoa is that it is when we use what is in our hands in faith that the Lord provides, and that doesn't mean a big handout from some rich philanthropic businessman. Moses instructed Aaron to throw down (use) what he had in his hand (a staff) in Numbers 7 and God did the miracle. Jesus too instructed others to go fishing for the king's tax and he lived and worked in amongst the people.

Yes I know that Paul had a couple of wealthy benefactors around the New Testament church but the essence of my concern is this . . . When a Christian talks and thinks about money as an answer to all things, thinking that money will do God's work, we miss His greater blessing.

I'll give you another example of how this narrow-minded money thing works from another angle. Recently a Christian blogger put out a call for help with a need for money. He wants to beef up his blog with gruntier computing power. So he asked for financial assistance. Nothing wrong with that but I have oodles of bandwidth and computing power sittling idle - untold excess capacity from my web hosting business that he's welcome to. He did me a favour. I can now do him a favour and money had nothing to do with it. Yet he had it all worked out how much MONEY he needed to save or get donated to him to do what he wanted to do. He had missed the boat by looking first at money.

I once went to the Pastor of my church with what I thought was a sure-fire business idea but was probably a hairbrained scheme in retrospect to set up a trust and to give gazillions to the church. He smiled and suggested that the best thing to do would be to just give a little as I could afford it today rather than a gazillions tomorrow. Smart man! I learned a great lesson in there, even if it was a little humbling in the process.

So to another example. The SWAP Foundation needs some help to get going here in Samoa. Sure we've been ticking over quite nicely with a dozen or so people having come up here to help out in various ways, but we need millions of dollars in assets and wages and funding and and and I could go on about it. This is how it is starting to happen . . .

Air New Zealand wants to help us bring up top international Green R&D experts to establish an R&D base here. Cool - that's Air New Zealand giving us what they have (spare seats) and us giving them the opportunity to get into green projects in post-Tsunami Samoa. Sounds pretty good to me. And how did this come about? A chance meeting from someone who just happened to meet someone who just happened to know us and a dream is evolving from there.

I need Polynesian Blue to understand our vision and get behind us too. One of the Board members no less stopped me and introduced himself to me in the street - yes, I kid you not, it happens ALL the time to me. He came to me and offered me his land FREE because he had heard about how the landlord at Satapuala had decked me and tried to double the rent and so on. He was shocked and wanted to help.

We don't need bucket-loads of money - neither to give, nor to receive - when we are in the centre of God's will. He has ways of doing things that transcends the business practices and business thinking that money is needed to do Christian things. It's not and sometimes it just doesn't help us. I know because I've experienced it first hand now. It's not easy but we must get our priorities right, and thinking that money is a key, or the key to getting things done is just downright wrong. Sorry Tall Skinny.

To those of you Christians who are getting challenged and threatened by my words here, just wait. It won't be long and you'll understand. Just read the Good Book again, especially the bits about money and the last days, and you'll see that we MUST find ways to listen to the Lord, be obedient in faith and forget about the money thing. If we don't we will simply not survive. Assets will become liabilities as end times kicks in. Cash in the bank means nothing if they won't let you or me use it.

So - all the best to the guys who want to make truckloads of cash and give it all away, but I think you're missing the point somewhat!

* What's In It For Me?

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All about money, again
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GREED - and how to deal with it
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