The last year or two have been a tough time for this country. We survived a cyclone that directly disrupted the lives of more than half the population.
An historically strong El Nino-driven drought not only stunted regrowth and starved gardens, it led to dozens of fires, some of them causing hundreds of millions in damage.
We watched more than half our government go to jail for criminal corruption and bribery. We watched a series of desperate, shameless tactics to hold on to power regardless of the facts and the will of the people.
And then, adding insult to injury, we saw the lifeblood of our economy, the aviation sector, stumble to the brink.
We’re not done yet. Many people still don’t realise just how touch-and-go things have been this year. Receiverships have been quietly stacking up. New business start-ups are slowing. The only reason we haven’t seen a torrent of commercial failures is because the banks are trying to maintain a sense of calm and decorum, and to do their best to preserve and protect their customers.
But the plain fact is that all is not well in the economy. One senior financial administrator told the Daily Post that ‘you would be surprised to see who’s on the list’ of companies whose debt is heading towards a ‘non-performing’ rating.
Food prices in the central market have not moderated sufficiently. Kava prices locally are at an all-time high. This puts inordinate pressure on the most economically vulnerable, the people who operate the ’20 vatu’ stalls and kava bars.
We haven’t turned the corner yet. And we might not.
It looks more and more like a major shakeup is going to be necessary in the bureaucracy before the government gets its house in order and takes meaningful strides to deal with money laundering. For over a decade, the effort to make real progress against money laundering and terrorist financing has been fitful, ineffective and often insincere. Both the private sector and the public sector have played a role in this. Some private sector players are singing a decidedly hypocritical tune as they utter paeans to transparency and then quietly lobby for less oversight, not more.
But it’s the government that owns this problem at the end of the day. We are nearly at zero hour and still we see the same jaw-dropping complacence and impunity that was rife in the civil service in the 1990s. That time, we experienced a meltdown that came within a hair of crashing the economy and led to years of recession.
Let’s be blunt: If the government doesn’t have a moment of complete conversion, a Road to Damascus, come-to-Jesus moment of clarity, conversion and culpability, our economy will fail.
If our economy fails, all bets are off. Sovereignty will be the least of our concerns, because literally every aspect of our lives will be affected. Medicines will be hard to purchase and distribute. Food, fuel and construction materials will rise drastically in price.
Rice will become a luxury item. Think about what that means.
Time and again, this country wakes up to a crisis at the eleventh hour, does exactly enough to avert complete disaster, then promptly goes back to sleep. If we do that again—even just once more—we are in for a rude awakening, and possibly a short, sharp shock.
We have time enough to take one last breath before the moment of truth. Take a look around you, at your colleagues, your friends and your loved ones. And know this: We’re tough. We’ve made it through tougher times than most people have faced in their lifetimes. We’ve scraped and struggled and muddled through.
We haven’t failed yet.
We could conclude this column with some sentimental aphorism, like ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’… but that’s bullhockey, frankly. Sentimentality and kind words are the opposite of what we need right now.
So we’ll say this instead: Enjoy your Christmas. Make the most of the joy, the togetherness, the kind weather and plentiful fresh food. Love your children. Spoil them with presents if you can. Spoil them with affection regardless.
But when you wake up on the 27th, clear your eyes and ask yourself, ‘Am I doing enough to move this country forward? How much am I willing to sacrifice in order for the country to survive?’
For some of you—and you know who you are—this means being willing, finally, to show some guts, some honesty, and some humility. Admit what’s important, listen to the counsel you’re getting and, if need be, to step down and leave this critical work to people who know how.
It’s that important. We can make it. But only if we admit that safeguarding the future of the country is bigger than any of us.
Merry Christmas. Be good to each other. Then do the right thing for your country.