They are people who have emotions and feelings too

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

For some time now, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his administration have been excitedly talking about their plans for the Vaiusu wharf.

Dubbed the “project of the future,” it is one of Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration’s dream projects that will further cement the legacy of the party in terms of multi-million-tala infrastructures. 

The government’s plan and excitement goes way back. In 2012 for instance when it purchased the Pacific Forum Line, the Prime Minister couldn’t contain his excitement.

“We have to look 50 years, even 100 years to the future,” he proclaimed. “The present port at Matautu is already meeting limitations with nowhere to expand the wharf  to and container hold.”

According to the Prime Minister then, if Apia is to feature as the “future international shipping hub of the Pacific region, this is the sort of forward-thinking” needed.

“Looking ahead, we need a port that can accommodate fifty to a hundred ships at once.” 

It’s hard to fault the Prime Minister’s grand vision. Who doesn’t want the benefits such a project could potentially generate? 

But the Prime Minister has an interesting little dilemma on his hands. In his haste to outline his grand plan, it appears he’s made an error. He’s forgotten to tell the village all about it. The nasty little snag surfaced two weeks ago when an elder of Vaiusu expressed concerns about the government’s plan.

Speaking to the Sunday Samoan, Ulugia Aukuso Simo said although the government has repeatedly aired their plans in the media, they have not had an official discussion about how the plan would impact on the village. They have also not asked for permission.

“In anything, people have to meet before they can go ahead with a plan,” he said.

“Our village is still waiting for a government representative to tell us about their plan. They should come and meet with us because we are not the ones making plans to build a wharf, it’s them.

“We have heard news about the government plans but like I said we have not met with the government at all.”

For Ulugia and Vaiusu, it’s not just the idea they will soon have a multi-million-tala wharf in the middle of their village. On top of fears that some villagers might be forced to relocate, their survival is at stake.

“It’s our resources, it belongs to us,” he said. “We want to protect our lagoons. We are also thinking about the future of our children and those that have left us. “A lot of our villagers depend on seafood sales to help their families. It’s important we protect it. We have to think not only about today but tomorrow on what will happen to our children and our reef. Our land is also our God given right and we value it.” 

Lastly, Ulugia had a message for the government. Although he does not know when the project will begin, he is certain that nothing would go ahead without their consent. 

“They cannot just go ahead with anything without meeting with us,” he said. “They don’t need to fly up in the air to get to us. The road is right there and they can access it.”

Well that’s awkward, don’t you think? Since 2012 – possibly even before that - the Prime Minister has been talking about his so-called “project of the future” and yet if Ulugia’s concerns are anything to judge by, the very people whose lives will be affected directly – including their lands – have not been consulted.

Who does that? 

By the sound of things, the project is likely to occupy acres and acres of land. Whoever that belongs to in Vaiusu, it is located in the village. It is not on the moon. Which means that whatever happens there – good or bad - the lives of the people of Vaiusu will be changed forever.

And yet it’s baffling how the government has not had the decency to at least tell these people first. What is so hard about that? And what does that say about what’s happening in this country today?

Look at the plight of the people of Sogi. Why do we get the feeling the developments at Vaiusu will have many similarities?

Speaking of Sogi, the Prime Minister’s response to the threat of a lawsuit against his government is interesting.

Said he: “I am not worried about it (lawsuit). Why should I be worried if the land belongs to the government? Another thing, I’m not a lawyer. The matter is being handled by the Attorney General.” 

Well that says a lot, doesn’t it? Technically he is correct. And we know the government has become so powerful it could do whatever it wants. It means that whether Vaiusu agrees or not, the government will proceed with it anyway.

But someone should remind the Prime Minister and the government that in their haste to implement these developments, they might like to slow down and consider the concerns voiced by members of the community. 

The point is that common courtesy should have been exercised in this particular case. Besides, this is Samoa, a country ruled by the matai system deeply rooted in care, courtesy and mutual respect.   

While the government has the power to do whatever it wants, let them be reminded these developments are taking place in villages. You are dealing with people whose lives will be directly affected. They have emotions and feelings too.

Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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