It’s fantastic to have a nice airport. But now the hard work begins

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The simple truth is this. No one in their right mind will not get excited about developments that lift the profile of our country and bring us that much closer to fulfill our potential as one of the leaders in the region.

The $140million upgrade to the Faleolo International Airport is one such development. And with the first phase already opened and now used, it’s easy to understand the excitement. 

Any proud Samoan would be more than happy especially when we stop to consider how far we’ve come as a country to reach where we are now.

Perhaps this is why Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was bursting with excitement when he hailed the first phase of the project as a state-of-the-art facility.

 “This new departure area is equipped with modern state of the art technology for passengers,” Tuilaepa told the crowd at the opening. “Samoa Airport Authority’s vision is to be the Pacific hub of air travel. It is government’s hope that the more new air carriers will make use of the new Faleolo facilities to push our tourism and trade transport.”

Despite his excitement though, he was bothered by something.

Tuilaepa then turned his attention to the complaints about the development, in relation to members of the public questioning the cost of the project in relation to Samoa’s ballooning foreign debt.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa did not say whom he was referring to and in that case we offer ourselves as lambs to the slaughter. We acknowledge that some of those complaints were published on the pages of this newspaper and even this column has raised the issue more than once for the simple question that is being asked by most people. 

Do we really need such an expensive facility when we’ve only got a few planes landing at Faleolo on a daily basis? 

Now this question was obviously nagging the Prime Minister that on Wednesday he could not help himself.  He said the government couldn’t just sit around while there are concessional loans, which provide opportunities for developments such as the airport.

“No one else will develop Samoa, we have to plan it,” he said. “If we are afraid of it, we will only go backwards and not move forward…”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa has a point. And credit must be given to his government for the foresight, wisdom and courage to push for such developments.

We would be lying though if we said we are not concerned about the state of the foreign debt. Of course we are concerned. With all these flash facilities, someone will have to pay for it. Our children, their children and their children’s children are the ones who will suffer.

Don’t get us wrong. These projects are potentially sound when they are well run. But they could easily become disasters when the planning is poor and when they are built with the wrong motives. 

So far all we’ve heard is that with the new multi-million-tala airport, Samoa is pushing to have the biggest, the best and the most impressive airport facility in the Pacific region. Which is okay but do we need to? Do airports attract tourists? Are the thousands of tourists flooding to Tahiti, Fiji and Cook Islands going there because of their airports? 

We don’t think so. Which is what worries us. With such an impressive facility – and mighty expensive too – it has to be commercially viable to sustain itself. Any less will mean the burden will fall on taxpayers shoulders which is the last thing we need.

In the not too distant past, we said the signing of the Air Service Agreement between Samoa and China is an exciting development for this country. It’s the sort of development we want to see now with this expensive airport.

So the agreement with China is a step in the right direction.  Implemented well and with a proper business plan to guide it, this has tremendous potential to benefit our people.

The reality is we need more airlines to fly to Samoa to use that airport. After all, we truly believe we have a slice of paradise that visitors would love to get a piece of. 

But they need to get here first. 

To do that, this country, and this government, will need to do a lot more than opening an impressive airport to bring them here. But then that’s what we think anyway? What about you? Share your thoughts with us!

Have a fabulous Friday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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