The Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, is adamant the government is on the right path.
He was defending the government’s decision to limit the age of imported vehicles from twelve to eight years. The law becomes effective next week. It means no car below the manufactured year of 2009 can be brought into the country.
“We’re doing what we have to do for the benefit of our people,” Papali’i told the Samoa Observer.
“It’s also with climate change in mind. We have to make sure that we don’t get a lot of cars polluting the air through carbon emissions. We get that from old vehicles because they blow out black fumes.
“The other thing is that as you can see, the roads are so congested, there are so many cars. That’s because people can afford cheap cars for $12,000, $10,000 but then I am sure they won’t last. Maybe they’ll have them for a few years and then that’s it.”
Papali’i was asked for a comment in response to a call by a New Zealand based lawyer, Haseeb Ashraf, who urged the government to reconsider its decision.
Speaking on behalf of their family business, Apia Motors, Mr. Ashraf said the government has forced them to reconsider their operation in Samoa.
“It’s going to be very difficult for not only us, but many members in the industry to survive,” he said.
“We are reviewing our options and one of those options is packing up.
That’s very unfortunate because we employ locals, we give a lot business, and we pay taxes and everything.”
Papali’i said Apia Motors decision to leave is theirs to make.
“If they want to leave then they can leave,” the Minister said.
“We have to try and ensure that this is not a dumping ground for old cars so we need to change. We need to go forward and I don’t see the problem with it, it’s just changing the year to ensure that we get better cars.
“We will get newer cars because we’re changing the quality from twelve to eight years. So we will be getting newer cars that are four years better. People complain because it doesn’t satisfy them.”
According to Mr. Ashraf, affordability is going to become a major problem for Samoans. He said the law change means the price of second hand vehicles will automatically jump from $12,000 to $27,000, a price range beyond many people.
But the Minister said that if those figures are accurate, it doesn’t diminish the need for newer vehicles, even if the price rises a little higher.
“I don’t know about that because that’s their figures,” he said.
“I don’t deal with used cars but if they think that those are the figures then yes. People need better cars and better cars bring money.
“That’s the logic behind it. It’s obvious that they have to increase the selling price of their vehicles if you get better cars; newer models will cost more than the rubbish they are bringing in.”
Papali’i added that one of the issues with older vehicles is the trouble of finding spare parts.
“The other thing I hear a lot of complaints about are spare parts,” he said. “They don’t find spare parts anywhere because of the kind of vehicles. 2004 and 13 years later they can hardly find any genuine spare parts for these kinds of vehicles.”
Papali’i also denied claims that the government is not business friendly.
“That’s rubbish,” he said.
“What do you mean ‘aren’t business friendly’? If you are not satisfied with what we’re putting up for the benefit of our people then it’s up to them; if they want to leave then leave.
There are others who want to come in and be in this market of used car sales. I am pretty sure they are not the only ones who believe that others will come in.”
Papali’i explains that even the variety of used vehicles offered by car dealers isn’t practical in a country like Samoa.
“I have highlighted with them that people need pick ups (trucks),” he said.
“Samoa is now flooded with sedans but farmers need pick ups. I believe they don’t have a supplier for pick ups and that’s the cars we need more than the sedans but the people have no choice.
“They can’t go to the farms with that kind of vehicle, they need proper pickups to go to the farms and bring their produce to the market.”
All in all, Papali’i believes the change is timely.
“It’s obvious that we need to change the years,” he said.
“We are still opening up to the public because vehicles for 2009 are better than the 2004. In fact it would be 2005 this year if we still maintain that. But now it’s changed to four years newer and that’s will mean better cars for us.
“You know when we upheld this law in the beginning, there were a lot of negative comments by the public that this will be a dumping place for old vehicles.
“But we opened it up because we feel for our people. We need them to get cheaper vehicles but as years go by we need to change.
“We can’t be left behind with old vehicles and I believe our people will afford the prices despite him saying that there will be an increase.”