The government’s plan to construct a multi-million-tala 15-storey building where the Savalalo market recently stood is being reconsidered.
In fact, according to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Fio Purcell, the plan might not be viable at all.
“At the time it was a good idea, or it may have seemed a good idea,” he said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
“Now in hindsight (and) looking at the plans, maybe not as good.”
But the Minister did not completely rule out the possibility of the plan being revisited at some stage.
“There could be an opportunity to revisit the idea,” he said, adding that for now, the market will remain as it is.
The plan for 15-storey complex surfaced in 2012 during the time of former Cabinet Minister, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga.
The idea was revealed during the discussion of a Financial Trade Center, which included the Minister going on a fact finding mission to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and other major cities in China “to familiarize ourselves with the step-by-step set up of such a center.”
At the time, Faumuina said the immediate benefits for Samoa included “huge foreign investment, job creation, corporate tourism and infrastructure development.”
“There will immediately be a proliferation of white collar employment opportunity for our young people, spinoffs to the tourism sector,” he said at the time.
“Our G.D.P forecast for next year is slated at $1,7 billion. In five years – with the financial center in full operation – the GDP should jump to well over $2 billion.” Faumuina said the construction was to be funded by investors from overseas.
At the beginning of the year, a fire demolished the iconic Savalalo Market.
Today, vendors are using tents to sell their goods.
Asked for an update about the market development, Lautafi said the plan would have to fit in with the larger plans of construction at the waterfront.
“There are approaches that the government is planning for the whole waterfront, around that area,” he said. We’ll have to make sure [the rebuilding] is aligned with those big projects.”
The Minister added that although the work is underway with the help of New Zealand for the Apia Waterfront Development, it could be a while before building starts.
“It’s going to be there for the next 1800 years so you’ve got to be absolutely sure that’s what you want. We also have to consider how that’s going to help the development of Samoa in the bigger picture.”
In the meantime, vendors have been selling their goods from tents set up in the space, and are still dealing with the aftermath of the fire in January.
Vendor Elda E. Taala said her stall has been struggling since the fire. She said the money she received from the government has not covered the money she lost in the fire nor the money she spent to restart her business. “My stall was burnt down in the fire including everything,” said Taala.
“Some of our products that cost more than thousands of tala, and to be honest, the government has not covered what we lost.
Taala also says the tents are bad for business when the weather is bad.
When it rains, the water comes into the stalls and when it’s windy their products are blown away.
“It’s really hard to earn money when it rains all throughout the week,” said Taala. “I am not happy with the place we are using right now. I know it is only temporary but I am still unhappy with it, our sales dropped and we hardly have any customers nowadays.”
Taala hopes the old market structure will be rebuilt and her business won’t have to move if the government decides to go ahead with the 15-storey building. “I hope we find a place in this building to sell our products,” she said.
“We are used to this area and most of our customers are familiar with this place, also this is the centre of town where everyone comes for shopping, especially tourists.”
She worries if they are forced to move the business elsewhere it will not attract, as many visitors, and she will struggle to support her family.
*Julie Iles is a Journalism student from Massey University, New Zealand, who is in Samoa for work experience.