Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has lifted the lid on the challenges faced by his government in the reconstruction of the Maota Fono at Mulinu’u.
In an interview with the government-owned Savali newspaper released by his Office, Tuilaepa claims that the Australian government had failed to deliver on a promise to fully fund the multi-million-tala project. Rather than a fully funded gift, he said the project is a now an “assorted gift” from Australia.
And his administration has had to scratch around to find the much-needed funds.
Adding insult to injury, the Prime Minister said if China had made the promise, they would have delivered.
Tuilaepa’s comment comes as a bitter diplomatic row continue between Australia and China over China’s aid to the Pacific. China has lodged a diplomatic complaint against Australia, labelling the attack from Australian Minister, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells as "full of ignorance and prejudice."
Tuilaepa agrees with China. He said Fierravanti-Wells’ comments are an insult to the integrity of Pacific Forum leaders.
Asked if Samoa has had any problems with aid funded projects, Tuilaepa singled out the Maota Fono reconstruction.
“We had the Governor General of Australia that came and delivered a speech to our country from our Parliament,” he said.
“I can remember this is an exception that we make to very few Heads of Governments from overseas. And she promised that Australia as its gift to Samoa for its 50th Independence Anniversary will fund our new Parliament building because the old Parliament building was in need of replacement. This was going to be funded by Australia.
“We were all happy and when it came down to the discussion stage, quite a lot of money was used on consultants from Australia. By the time we came to the final agreement, in came Abbott’s government and he cut overseas aid.
“And despite the assurance I got from P.M. Abbott when I spoke to him at the C.H.O.G.M. meeting in Sri Lanka, and also his Foreign Minister who assured me later that there would be no problem, I finally got the response; Sorry! Samoa will have to fund part of the building.”
Tuilaepa said these things happen from time to time.
“But there is one thing that we’re sure of is that when the Chinese agree on a project, they pay everything that they are committed to do,” he said.
“Our Parliament Building is near completion, but instead of a 100% Australian gift, it is now an assorted gift.”
Tuilaepa maintained that Australia cannot match China in terms of their help to the Pacific.
“I do not know whether Australia is able to finance the kind of assistance provided by China,” he said.
“For Samoa, China has helped to build office buildings, sports facilities and airport terminals to name a few.
“I think that instead of criticizing this assistance from China, Australia’s Minister of Development should be thankful to the Chinese that they have complemented the assistance by Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific Island countries. Australia and New Zealand have not been able to finance all of our needs. That’s where assistance from China has become very, very useful to all of us.”
It was not possible to get a comment from the Australian government at press time last night.