“Chinese flags” and the sole Opposition M.P. stalwart, named Olo Fonoti Vaai

This is an interesting story. Friday evening the Samoa Observer held a function to say goodbye to its good friends and next door neighbours, the Chinese Ambassador to Samoa, Wang Xuefeng, and his good lady, Madam Tong Xin. 

They are ending their three-year tenure in Samoa, and now that they are in the process of getting ready to go home, the Samoa Observer, who have been working together with them over a number of projects, including the paper’s short story competition called Our Heritage the Ocean, had invited them to their home for dinner and to say goodbye.

As it soon turned out though, everyone was happily enjoying oneself with drinks and all, and then when dinner arrived the feeling was so invigoratingly pleasant, it felt as if the evening would continue to move along just fine.

And then out of the blue, the story the writer had read in the Samoa Observer, titled “Chinese Flags angers M.P.” showed up, and right away his evening was soiled black; indeed, it was under threat of being turned upside down.  

The story we’re talking about here was published in the Samoa Observer on 19 January 2019. Titled “Chinese flags angers M.P.”, it quoted the Member of Parliament, Olo Fonoti Vaai, as having urged “Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, and his government, to remove forthwith the Chinese flags, that are being flown at the sites of those various projects, that the government is funding.”

The M.P. went on to say, it did not make sense that the Chinese flags were allowed, to be flown at the sites of the projects that were being funded by loans, that the Samoan taxpayers would ultimately have to repay.  

Said Olo Fonoti Vaai: “This is Samoa, and while we are thankful to the Chinese Government for their assistance, the fact remains that these are not aid. In other words, these projects are all part of the $410 million debt owed to China.”

 He also pointed out: “These projects are not free, so why are we allowing them to fly their flags on the projects sites? It doesn’t make any sense!”

And now turning to the story in the Samoa Observer that revealed foreign debts amounting to $1.1 billion, had been accumulated by the Samoa Government over the years, Olo Fonoti Va’ai said Samoa’s debt with China currently stood at $410.01 million.

He also said the Government had paid $58.4 million and $117.1 million in 2013, as debt-servicing for the loans that funded the construction of the Parliamentary Building, Ministry of Justice, the Courts and Administration Building and the Convention Center.  

Later, when the Samoa Observer sought a comment from the Chinese Ambassador, he did not respond.

However, the Embassy’s Second Secretary, Liu Peng, replied, asking: “Is it not the international conventions to fly the two countries’ flags in the cooperation projects, in order to show the cooperation relation and friendship between two countries, especially when other countries also do the same things?” 

Ms. Peng told the paper she would ask the Ambassador for a comment, but then by press time that night, no response from the Embassy had been received. 

And then there was an instance, where the Chinese flag was being flown during the Faleolo International Airport at an upgrade project, which Olo Fonoti Va’ai claimed he’d seen but he did not know if it’d been approved, and if it had been, who had approved it!

Revealed Olo Fonoti Va’ai: “I was puzzled. This is the gateway for most of the tourists who visit Samoa and yet the first thing they see, is the Samoan flag being accompanied by the Chinese flag. Now once again, it does not paint a good picture of Samoa, as a country.”

As for the Faleolo Airport upgrade, Olo Fonoti Va’ai, the sole Member of the Opposition Party, explained that the upgrade was funded by a loan from the Chinese Government, and he pointed out that the Samoan Government had already started to pay the loan back.

He said: “Again, looking at the public accounts and for the upgrading of the airport, the loan started in 2014 with the first repayment in the financial year 2015 of $33.41 million.”

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“In 2016, the Government paid $59.50 million, and this amount climbed to $90 million in 2018.”

In his interview with the Samoa Observer, Olo Fonoti Va’ai, the man who loves his country so much, he’d urged the leaders of his government to please, be careful.

Indeed, he is telling Samoans everywhere to remain proud of their country, and that way they should never forget the struggle for Independence that the Mau Leaders had aimed for, so that today everywhere we look we see not just political independence but also pure, unambiguous freedom.  

And so, Olo Fonoti Va’ai, asked the obvious question: “Why can’t we do the same, we should have some pride in our country, where our Mau leaders had shed blood to assure Samoa’s Independence. Samoa was the first Pacific Island to gain Independence – we should wear that with pride and not allow this to continue.”

As for alleged government corruption that Olo Fonoti Va’ai had pointed out in a story published on 23 January 2019, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, in response was blunt, as he’d asked: “What corruption are you talking about? Where is the proof?”

Undeterred, M.P., Olo Fiti Va’ai, told Prime Minister Tuilaepa: “The biggest problem in the Government today is corruption.” 

“We have so much government funds going to waste and this is because the government is being reckless, greedy and abusive.”

“During the past year, there have been a number of problems faced by the Government from one Ministry to another, and it all comes down to a weakness.”

“When I consider all these actions, it is corrupt, that is what’s happening in the Government.”

Olo Fiti Va’ai went on to say: “Millions of (dollars) in Government revenue collected are not turned in. They have been allocated in the budget for positions within the public service and yet they are not filled.”

When Prime Minister, Tuilaepa, objected, he told Olo Fiti Va’ai: “You are being rude and disrespectful. You just blurt out such words. This M.P. has been against this Government from the beginning.”

Tuilaepa went on to caution the M.P. against making false allegations,  and he reminded him: “We have auditors and lawyers in place to prosecute such cases.” 

Tuilaepa continued to accuse the Salega M.P., Olo Fiti Va’ai, of being negative about Government developments, and he then went on to point at a story that was published in the Samoa Observer, where Olo questioned the raising of the Chinese flag in Samoa.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa said: “There are six flags at the project site, and yet he targeted the flag of the Government of China.”

“What’s so harmful about China’s flag? It’s a sign they are providing assistance to Samoa. What about you? What are you doing?” 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa went on to say: “We are receiving financial support to assist with our developments and as for you, what have you done.”

However, when Tuilaepa turned to the subject called Corruption he told Olo Fiti Va’ai: “Corruption is when there are laws and yet nothing is being done about it. That is not the case here. There are laws in place here where alleged illegal practices are taken care of.” 

Now addressing Old Fiti Va’ai smartly in the face, Tuilaepa said to him: “So don’t you dare level such allegations to me, but you look within yourself and then you tell me what you’re doing.” 

And so, the war of words impinging on every man, woman and child who’s calling Samoa home, is bound to remain frowned upon by this country’s political leaders, whose only concern is that they themselves are well taken care of as time, previous time, will just keep on rolling along.

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.     

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