Pasifika pressure

18:49, Jan 23 2013
FINANCIAL PLANNING: Kiwis are becoming more cautious of debt.

Problem debt will continue to cripple Pacific Island families unless some traditions are kept in check, according to a report by the Families Commission.

Large contributions to weddings, funerals and cultural events including church donations are highlighted as contributing factors to problem debt in the community.

Pacific Families and Problem Debt was written by Dr James Prescott to assist government agencies help pacific communities.

Filipo Sio was once a top salesman for Telecom then Clear Communications for which he received a six-figure salary.

The West Harbour-based Samoan man who is retired says talking about finances is a taboo subject among Pasifika people that needs to lose its stigma if the community is going to progress.

"I've been known to speak out about it and that hasn't won me any popularity," he says.


"I know a family which got into serious debt because it had to borrow a large amount of money to stage a funeral to match their relative's status in their village."

Mr Sio says like many Pasifika families his kin often feel obliged to contribute money to village ceremonies and to the church.

"Pacific Islanders don't like to be criticised or talked about behind their backs about how they are poor and that's what happens. People gossip and it's humiliating."

Mr Sio experienced that humiliation personally when he decided to take a stand when organising his brother's funeral.

"He was one of the four big chiefs in the village and when he passed away I urged the family to put on a normal funeral. Some of my family were not entirely happy but because I'm the leader they had to live with the decision. It's true that my family, especially my sisters, were really offended by some of the comments made."

The Families Commission report says that in the Pacific Islands it's traditional to give resources like food or time rather than cash so getting into debt was not possible. It suggests that Pacific families contribute amounts that allow them to meet their financial commitments or give other resources like labour if they can't give cash.

West Fono chief executive Tevita Funaki says pride needs to be put aside when financial security is on the line.

The report says those cultural factors have a significant part to play but alcohol abuse and gambling are also hugely detrimental.

Data from the New Zealand Health Survey 2011 shows Pasifika gamblers are likely to be at higher risk a problem gambling than others.

Mr Funaki says a lack of financial literacy is a major factor that leads people to loan sharks.

"There's a serious lack of understanding of loan terms - the economic basics. Loan sharks make borrowing simple and that's what they understand.

"But as soon as they take on debt from bad loans that ruins any chances of getting cheaper finance from banks in the future."

Mr Funaki says community and church leaders need to actively encourage families to access support services.

"Otherwise we're going to continue the intergenerational debt problems."

Western Leader