It cannot be business as usual

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s government can ill afford to be ignorant about growing concerns expressed by members of the public here and abroad on the proposed sale of Bluesky to a Fiji government-owned company. 

We accept that it’s a tough one for the government. You see, the decision to sell SamoaTel to Amper a few years ago when Bluesky was established was in fact the government relinquishing control of the nationally-owned telco company.

And although the branding and marketing slogans since then have largely been based on the company being Samoa-owned, the reality is quite different. 

For the past few years, Bluesky had already been controlled and run from outside so that today, the government cannot do much to regain some of that control. It’s a tough gig for Tuilaepa and his administration. 

Somewhere at the back of his mind, he must surely regret the decision not to take up a last minute local offer made to keep SamoaTel within local control when the decision was made to bring in Bluesky. 

You see, what many people do not know is that before SamoaTel became Bluesky, there was a desperate last attempt by a local bidder to keep the company Samoan-owned. In any case, what’s done cannot be undone now.

Sadly a few years down the line, we’ve now found ourselves in this predicament, which has caused widespread alarm among Samoans here and abroad. The growing concerns expressed on social media and other forms of media highlight the deep-rooted feelings our people have regarding this issue. 

They cannot be ignored. 

Which is why with the negotiations continuing for the sale to Amalgamated Telecom Holding, we urge the government and local officials involved to proceed with caution. 

What they should keep in mind is the word freedom. They should insist on keeping Samoa’s communication lines internally and with the outside world free from being spied upon and being tapped into by foreign interests – especially by a leader who has shown total disregard for freedom and democracy with the way he has been behaving lately.

The reality is that some of the fears expressed about surveillance and control by the Fijian government might be far fetched and who knows, it might never happen. 

But that’s beside the point. The fact is there is now an opportunity for a dictator to do that. He has been given an invitation and it almost seems too tempting for him to ignore.

Indeed, by A.T.H, which is controlled by the Fijian government, taking over Bluesky, there is nothing there to stop Bainimarama getting into some of that information for Samoa, especially when it comes to his long time nemesis Tuilaepa.

Of all the years of Tuilaepa and Bainimarama’s tit-for-tat battles on different issues concerning freedom, coups and regional challenges, 2016 must surely be the worst for Prime Minister Tuilaepa. 

On top of the fact Bainimarama can proudly boast about beating him to the Olympic Sevens rugby gold medal in style, if this deal with Bluesky and A.T.H goes through (which is very likely), there are no prizes for guessing where the bragging rights are. It’s a big slap in the face, a major embarrassment.

So Tuilaepa can say anything he likes about Bainimarama but he’s making all the right moves.And we might not necessarily agree with the way the Fijian leader has been going about his business – including his moves to boot our friends New Zealand and Australia from the Pacific Islands Forum – but he seems to be doing something right. 

Besides, tourism is on another level in Fiji. Planeloads of tourists are heading there day after day, something we cannot say about Samoa. And with this latest stunt to get into the telco industry, the future is as scary as it is unknown for Tuilaepa.

What we do know is that the government and officials involved are not going into these negotiations unwarned. They have been well warned both on the pages of your newspaper and social media sites where the bulk of the concerns have been expressed.

Just yesterday, a letter titled “Our security at risk, what is our government doing about it?” penned by T. Pouesi was published on this newspaper. It made a number of wonderful constructive points, which the government should take into consideration.

Come to think of it, all the viewpoints expressed might be different but they share one common factor. They are based on a heart for Samoa – and the need to ensure security and safety of our people.

The fact is this. Our version of democracy is not perfect. Far from it.We have our flaws and the government – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa – have plenty of faults. But our freedom and democracy are a work in progress based on the rule of law and mutual respect. We cannot say the same thing about a certain leader who locks up people simply for meeting in a public place. That’s something from another planet. We don’t want someone like that to be listening in on our telephone calls. 

Wake up Samoa. Interestingly, when Prime Minister Tuilaepa was asked about the sale, he downplayed it, by simply saying: “That is how business works.”

In this instance Mr. Prime Minister, this is not just business as usual. You and your administration better wake up before it’s too late. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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