Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s government has come under fire from unhappy members of the business community over the likely closure of the Matautu Wharf to allow the installation of the Tui Samoa Internet Cable.
Contrary to assurance from the Samoa Ports Authority (S.P.A) that they are working to ensure the disruption to shipping schedules is minimal, an importer and a member of the business community said the matter has been handled poorly.
“The government’s decision not to talk to the importers was crazy,” the man who identified himself as Lei said. According to Lei, importers and wholesalers were never consulted and this was disrespectful.
“We are responsible for bringing food into Samoa, for selling to other shops as well as for the public as a whole. And yet we were never told and our opinion was never sought.
“If we cannot bring this food, there will be an economic disaster. If we do not bring in food – people will not eat. Of course we should have been consulted.”
Lei said the whole plan was “very poorly thought out” and the government did not consider the implications of their decision.
“I support the Cable connection to Samoa but those who benefit the least will be those that are impacted the worst.”
Lei claimed that he has been told by the Chamber of Commerce that the wharf is likely to be closed for more than a month.
“The implications are huge,” he said. “No imports of any food (and fuel) for this period. It means we must order in advance.
“The problems with this is that the costs will be (supply and demand). There will be interest cost on borrowed money to finance abnormal purchases, getting a vessel to carry goods (shipping companies probably have no vessel available at such short notice.
“And all this means higher prices for consumers.”
The local businesses will also have to find somewhere to store containers.
“Freezer containers are a major problem. There are no power outlets available for additional containers brought in
“There will be monetary cost and a logistical nightmare with ordering and arranging delivery in advance.”
Lei’s worst fear is food shortage.
Palestina Pita, of Betham Brothers, said the plan is definitely an inconvenience.
“It’s really an inconvenient and they’ve given it to us at such short notice,” she said. “We’ve already had some cancellations. Two (cruise ships) have already redirected to Pago Pago. Next year a cruise that cancelled this year, cancelled next year because they don’t want to go through the hassle of maybe yes, maybe no.”
Ms. Pita said the Samoa Ports Authority had called an “emergency meeting” and the local mangers were very vocal about it. Prime Minister Tuilaepa apparently had to step in.
“I think they need better communication.”
Ms. Pita said they are not opposed to the government’s plan and the Cable.
“We understand now. We just wish the Samoa Ports Authority and the Ministry consulted us earlier. I guess it’s for the betterment of Samoa, I just wish they planned it a bit better.
“In the end, its good for us because B.B.E has online services but its poor planning.
“Now we look forward to the finished project because we have internet problems everyday, every hour. With the completion of the new wharf, we’ll get bigger P.M.O which is based out of New Zealand is looking at launching a monthly out of Auckland to Apia. That’ll be good when we’re finished. For this year, we really got to drive our business.”
Contacted for a comment, the Minister responsible for the Tui Samoa Cable and the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, denied that the wharf would be closed for 37 days.
“There is no such thing,” he told the Samoa Observer. “Wrong information again.”
Asked to elaborate, he said: “To set the record straight, there is no such thing.”
On Monday, the General Manager of the Samoa Ports Authority (S.P.A), Aiganalaavasa Uialatea Fereti, told the Samoa Observer the government is working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure vital supplies are not affected.
The installation is scheduled from August to October this year.
Aiganalaavasa said that the government is negotiating with the TE SubCom and they are hoping for a workable solution.
“The request came through the Samoa Submarine Company,” said Aiganalaavasa. “And so the government is now negotiating with TE SubCom as the schedules given from TE might disrupt vessel schedules during that time.
“We want to make sure that the adjusted schedule will not disrupt any supplies and other deliverables through our ports.”