An elder of the village of Vaiusu has expressed concerns about the government’s plan to relocate the main wharf to their village.
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.
As of today, Ulugia said the village is still waiting for the government for a consultation.
“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.”
Asked for a comment, the Member of Parliament for Faleata West and Associate Minister, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, rejected the claim.
Lealailepule, who is in New Zealand, said the village of Vaiusu does not object to the wharf.
“I’ve discussed this with Ulugia Aukuso and other village high chiefs on several occasions,” he said.
“They are very supportive but as in any government plan, the village and community need to be part of the process and planning as they will be the people directly affected."
“During my first speech at this Parliamentary term, I specifically urged Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, the Minister responsible for the wharf to ensure that some of the village high chiefs are included and are part of the consultative process team."
“They will be the ones selling the idea to the community and engaging the support and understanding of the villages so that the project runs smoothly and in a timely manner with as little hiccups as possible.”
In 2012 when the government bought the Pacific Forum Line, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi revealed plans to relocate the wharf from Matautu to Vaiusu.
At the time, Tuilaepa suggested it was time to plan port development to account for growing port demand of the future. He said Matautu was too small with no room to expand.
Asked about his views on the reason given by government for a proposed international wharf, Ulugia said “that is the view of the government.”
But the 70-year-old matai said the village values their lagoon and oceans.
“It’s our resources, it belongs to us,” he said.
A drive through the villages of Vailoa and Vaiusu would find that a lot of families sell fish and different kind of shell fish on the side of the road.
Ulugia pointed out the fish comes from their ocean side and the village intends to protect its lagoon and reef.
“We want to protect our lagoons. We are also thinking about the future of our children and those that have left us,” he said.
“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."
“If the government does plan to relocate us all in order for them to go ahead with their plans. I don’t think those plans mean anything more than (our lands) to us.”
Ulugia said he does not know when the government plans to meet with the villagers.
But he assured 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.”
More than two hundred families occupy the seaside of Vaiusu going to Vaigaga.
According to Ulugia, he believes the government’s planned wharf will start from in front of the Vailoa Catholic church going towards Vaiusu and behind Vaigaga.
The Prime Minister constantly refers to the plan.
Recently, he spoke about a report done some 50 years ago by overseas engineers who identified Vaiusu Bay as the ideal location for port development.
He said the project might take up to ten years to build and if Apia is to become the future international shipping hub of the Pacific region, such forward thinking needs to be adopted.
“Matautu wharf is already heavily congested,” he said. “Looking ahead we need a port that can accommodate fifty to a hundred ships at once.”