Steep hike in cost of living prompts calls for gov’t to police ‘fair’ prices
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the issues raised during the House Session this week is the high cost of goods, a contributing factor to the high cost of living, as lawmakers voiced concerns over the significant increases — from food to building materials — and urged the American Samoa Government (ASG) to do random visits to businesses to make sure the hike in prices is “fair”.
The issue was raised by Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr and Rep. Titialii Kitara Vaiau.
Titiali’i said he went shopping and noticed that the cost of one case of water has gone from $4.99 to $7.99. He also noticed that the price for certain frozen foods, such as turkey tails, mutton flaps and chicken, are also going up.
According to Titiali’i, he did his own research at some of the Asian stores and discovered that the price of most goods that people need for their daily living have all gone up.
Titiali’i urged the government officials who deal with this issue to do something to stop business owners from driving up the cost of living.
Fetu echoed Titiali’i’s statement and called for a House hearing to question those who deal with this matter.
Members of the public have also expressed concerns at the rising cost of living and urge leaders to do something to stop this ongoing problem.
One citizen told Samoa News that American Samoa, like many vulnerable Pacific Island economies, continues to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global trade and the supply chain which has led to local companies increasing prices due to a hike in freight and import duty costs.
A 39-year-old shop supervisor, who works in an Asian-owned business in Tafuna and refused to give his name, said the rising cost of living is a major hurdle for him as prices of goods appear to increase on a weekly basis.
He said he is even seeing price increases in the shop he currently works in and often tries to negotiate with the business’ owner for a “fair price” for local customers.
“I have always felt the need to help our people any way I could,” the shop supervisor told the Samoa News.
“Even though I cannot change the prices on goods and products within our store, I still try my best to reason with our [business] owner for fair prices for our customers when I see fit.”
As an example, the shop supervisor cited the shortage of many goods such as rice experienced in American Samoa a few months ago, due to the delay in the arrival of a container ship.
A lot of stores immediately increased the price of their remaining rice stock, but the owner of the business he works for did not hike the price, after his own staff expressed concern at any plans to increase the price.
“Because our store's owner has seen our concern and that even with our earned income, we still are not able to meet our everyday needs and wants.”
The shop supervisor then appealed to ASG to do random inspections of businesses, if the rights of the customers are to be protected.
“This can serve as a reminder to the government to pay visits to supermarkets and stores, once in a while, to inspect if fair prices are given to the public for their goods and products.
The owner of a small-to-medium sized shop in Nuuuli, who only identified himself as Mr. Faalogo, expressed similar sentiments about the cost of living and blamed it for his business’ lack of profit.
“The cost of living is an ongoing issue in American Samoa, even us small shops are not able to make much profit, due to developing Chinese-owned supermarkets,” said Mr. Faalogo.
He said the rise in the cost of chicken in recent years is an example of how things have gotten out of control.
“Back then chicken was always sold for a reasonable price and besides the expensive mutton flaps, we were always relying on chicken to change our food menu daily, nowadays the cost of a box of chicken is almost equivalent to the price of two mutton flaps,” said Mr. Faalogo.
“Yes, maybe it is due to the pandemic but it is confusing. Even for me as a shop owner, I am always assured if I buy my stock from local wholesale as most of their goods and products are reasonable.”
(Editor’s Note: Samoa News should point out that the majority of grocery stores in the Territory are Asian-owned, and may account for Rep. Titialii’s use of the word “Asian” to describe the stores he included in his research, and not to a specific focus group — that of Asian-owned stores.)