Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has downplayed questions of conflict of interest in the transfer of two prime land properties owned by the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.) at the Vaitele industrial area.
“This is what I call a storm in a tea cup,” Tuilaepa said.
“Everything has been done in accordance to procedures. So whoever wrote the letter, should have gone to investigate properly. I don’t know if it’s jealousy… it’s jealousy. You see jealousy is a very bad thing.”
Tuilaepa made the point in response to questions raised in a letter titled “Alleged conflict of interest or nepotism?” sent to the Samoa Observer. The letter questioned the decision by S.N.P.F. to authorise the transfer of such properties to a member of the Board.
Tuilaepa said he has looked into the matter.
“The allegation is that it has been awarded to someone on the board. So I wanted to find out more,” he said.
“I have been told that one of the estates was advertised and tendered. It was tendered three or four times. Even Women in Business tendered for it. I knew because I was copied in on the correspondence and W.I.B.D.I. had the lease but I was told they changed their mind.”
At that point, Tuilaepa said the Chief Executive Officer thought that they are wasting their time going through the process of advertising so many times only to “get people with no money.
“So they went back on the bidders and there was this one guy who had missed out on a couple of occasions. The management thought we’re not going to waste time on advertising for it anymore so they decided to offer it to this man who has been bidding a few times but missed out. So that’s the man who was successful.”
Tuilaepa said the lease was signed some three years ago.
“I’ve heard it’s been three years since the lease was done but his mistake was that he had married this girl. The girl is the daughter of this man who sits on the board. They just got married yesterday. So that was his mistake.”
Referring to the bidder, Tuilaepa said the “bugger comes from somewhere close to Aana” while “the girl’s father owns a cattle farm."
“He comes from the village of Falevao.”
The Prime Minister said the government policy on these matters is quite clear and that is to put to tender.
“It’s important to tender because the government will get a good return on it. The government is not a banana trunk; it’s a government that belongs to all of us.”
But there are factors to consider.
“It’s not just a good price… it’s also whether you can get your business off the ground right away.”
He referred attempts to development Taumeasina island which started in 1970s. Many attempts failed because they had no money.
“With these public tenders, there are many cases where people just bid and yet they don’t have any money,” Tuilaepa said.
“So when it gets to that stage where you have been told you won and you are asked to front up with money and you reject… so it was like that with the land in question.”
Last week, the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.), Faumuina Esther Poutoa, denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
In a letter, she also reassured that the S.N.P.F Board takes extreme care to address issues of conflict of interest (C.O.I.) with such transactions as per N.P.F. Act 1972.
“The procedure regarding lands that have been identified to be leased is that these lands are advertised publicly; once the bids are received they will be reviewed by S.N.P.F’s properties division for a decision and subsequently awarded to the winning bidder,” she wrote.
“The decision to award which could be made by the Board or Management is based on criteria which include the current financial position of the bidder, the ability to service the lease and the bid price."
“Certain properties are not part of the lands put aside for leases as they are either part of land already leased or any other reason. If there is a request to lease such land by any member of the public, Management has the discretion to make a decision regarding such request on a case by case.”