Vision or foolish dreams?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It’s sad but it was inevitable. What we feared would eventually happen is now within sight with the story titled “$5.7million waste, closure possible” on the front page of your Sunday Samoan. 

We are referring to the much-maligned fate of the empty “goldmine” at Vaitele known as the Vaitele market, which the government pumped millions of dollars into not so long ago. 

Come to think of it, the project could have in fact cost much more than $5.7million. With wear and tear over the years, nobody has said anything about how many more millions have been pumped into it to keep it standing. 

But then that perhaps is a story for another day.

Today, we want to think of the Vaitele market as just one example of how millions of public monies have been wasted by the government on these so-called investments that have failed. You really have to wonder if these public officials would have invested so recklessly if it were their own money.

The truth is the Vaitele market is only the tip of the iceberg. Interestingly enough, a few days before Sunday, there was another story in this newspaper about another failed investment in the now infamous Desico Samoa Company Limited. That particular story has been well told. 

Suffice to say, those millions have disappeared along with the Sri Lankan investors who came and hoodwinked public officials at the time with their promises of heaven on earth, which of course never materialised.

But there is more. 

Of millions wasted on infrastructure, not far from the Vaitele market is another multi-million-tala government building in the form of the S.N.P.F Complex that remains largely empty. 

Up at the Tuana’imato Sports Complex, a number of facilities costing millions built for the South Pacific Games have amounted to nothing less than a pile of waste. Who knows what would have happened to the other infrastructures there if it wasn’t for the need to renovate them for the S.I.D.S conference as well as the recent Commonwealth Youth Games? 

And how can we forget about another $4.2million tala empty building at Tuana’imato in the form of the former S.L.C headquarters that will soon be home to a largely unknown entity promising much in terms of cancer treatment? 

We can go on and on about more similar structures in Upolu and Savai’i but we’ll stop here. You get our drift so enough said.

To be fair to the government, the facilities were built with good intentions. And to a certain extent there was a need for them. Take for instance the Vaitele market. Back in 2011 when the facility was opened, the then Minister of Finance, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, had a dream. In cutting the ribbon, he said: “The colour of the ribbon – gold – best describes this new market. This will be a goldmine for this country.” 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi certainly shared the dream.

“The market will serve this side of the capital and Upolu. It should also immediately result in the easing of traffic through Fugalei (market), easing of the pressures and demands on the main market there and the over-crowdedness we’ve become all too familiar with through the years,” he said. “It’s not just farmers who will take advantage of this new facility, those who want to go into small business enterprise will too.”

Sadly, the government’s vision has failed miserably. Apart from a pool table section, the market remains largely empty seven days a week. Now the Minister responsible is saying if all else fails there is no other option but to close it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the difference between good intentions and the need to invest public monies wisely is quite often a costly exercise. The reality is that these decisions hurt innocent members of the public who had little to do with the decision making in the first place. The millions wasted on these investments is often reflected through high unemployment, expensive cost of living, high crime rate, poverty, hardship and our ballooning foreign debt threatening to enslave us all.

The worry is that from what we see today, the government doesn’t seem to have learnt anything from these white elephant projects. They are continuing to pump more money into infrastructure without considering the consequences of them failing and how that affects ordinary lives.

From an economic standpoint, they seem to have been operating on the notion that once the infrastructure is in place; it will itself create the demand that’s needed to sustain it. 

Obviously that hasn’t worked and the multi-million-tala failures we have referred to in this piece are classic examples. 

The lesson here is simple. If anything, we need to create the demand first before we do anything else. That requires proper analysis, planning and prudent budgeting to ensure our hard-earned taxpayers money and much-needed aid monies are not wasted. 

Equally important is the need to eliminate corruption, abuse of power and greed, which played a huge role during the construction of these projects. No wonder they have failed. Let’s not kid ourselves here, if something is corrupt from the start, the end will be miserable. That’s why public servants must insist on transparency and accountability – something that has been clearly lacking in a number of these failed projects.

Today in Samoa, the government is building a multi-million-tala state of the art airport. When it’s completed, it promises to place Samoa on the map as one of the best airports in the Pacific region. That’s fine. Who wouldn’t be proud? 

But is it really necessary? If we only have two international flights a day to and from Faleolo, how will such an expensive facility be sustained? And who will pay to keep it operating? 

You and me of course, the silent submissive taxpayers.

Elsewhere, talks about the multi-million-tala wharf at Vaiusu send shivers down the spine. The same questions come to mind.

You see folks, it’s one thing to have a vision but it’s quite another to pursue foolish dreams at the whim of these politicians who will only hurt the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable in our community – including those men and women screaming out about the hardships they are facing in the Village Voice of this newspaper everyday. 

What do you think?

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

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