Frustrated Vaivase resident speaks out
“As I and my family live around the Vaivase area, we need to understand possible impacts (positive and negative) that may affect us in citing this development in our residential area. An E.I.A. will assist us obtain that understanding as required under Section 42 of P.U.M.A. Act 2004 and E.I.A Regulations 2007” – Fiu Mataese Elisara
The President of O le Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (O.L.S.S.I.), Fiu Mataese Elisara, has questioned the accountability and transparency of the Planning and Urban Management Agency (P.U.M.A).
The questions arise over what he describes as the poor response from P.U.M.A to his attempts to obtain the Initial Environment Examination (I.E.E) for the Tui Samoa Cable project at Vaivase.
Fiu told the Sunday Samoan he has made numerous requests only to appear that his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
“The formal requests were made last month, inquiring for a copy of the Initial Environment Examination (I.E.E.) and development consent on the laying of the Tui Samoa Cable in Vaivase,” Fiu told the Sunday Samoan.
Fiu is the Head of O le Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (O.L.S.S.I.) a Division under the umbrella of S.U.N.G.O. (The Samoa Umbrella for non-governmental Organizations).
“My frustration is related to the failure of the Head of P.U.M.A. to reply to several requests I made for E.I.A. and development consent (D.C.) on the related TuiSamoa Cable as a resident of Vaivase.”
He pointed out that almost all government projects focus on “benefits” and little or nothing on the more important information on “risks”.
“I argue that obligations for ‘full disclosure’ of both ‘benefits’ and equally or more importantly on ‘risks’ is an obligation government must comply with for people to be more and better informed."
“The Tui Cable project is such a project and the concerns by a Vaivase resident (seems to be a knowledgeable person on risks of similar projects with a U.S. Air Force background) on ‘Health warning alert about Tui Cable site’ published on the 19 September Samoa Observer is justified because government failed to fully disclose ‘risks’,” said Fiu.
He said the requests started on 21 September, 2017, where he requested copies of any E.I.A. and development consent for the major government development on the Tui Samoa Cable cited at Samoa College.
Another email was sent the following day, with another follow up email sent on 25th September, 2017.
Fiu pointed out in the email that he lived around the area and was interested in the requested information as required in the P.U.M.A. Act 2008, E.I.A. Regulations 2007, and D.C. Regulations 2008.
“Look forward to your reply please to this 3rd request before obliging to take this matter to other levels that will inevitably include further public information and also in relation to a public servant responsible ignoring requests from primary clients. Ma le faaaloalo tele, Fiu,” the email read.
The advocate did not stop there, after three attempts and no response, he wrote to C.E.O. of M.N.R.E.
He pointed out to the C.E.O. that the “A.C.E.O. P.U.M.A. has failed or ignored replying to my three clear emails below requesting information on development consent and E.I.A. for the TuiSamoa cable which is a large government project."
“As I and my family live around the Vaivase area, we need to understand possible impacts (positive and negative) that may affect us in citing this development in our residential area."
“An E.I.A. will assist us obtain that understanding as required under Section 42 of P.U.M.A. Act 2004 and E.I.A Regulations 2007."
“Also it will benefit us as residents of this area to understand what factors and conditions that merits a Development Consent (DC) to be issued as required by Sections 34 and 35 of P.U.M.A. Act 2004 and D.C."
“Regulations 2008, Parts III, IV, and V of the P.U.M.A. Act 2004 are very clear and I would personally like to see that these requirements are observed by government in the light of its developments equally as pushed compliance on our ordinary peoples/developers.
“Especially the rights of citizens who live around the area who in this case, there has not been any compliance by PUMA in respect of consultations (section 18 if this was at all part of a sustainable management plan which I have never seen) or Section 43 in the requirement for notification.
“I am concerned that after three emails, two last week and one this week, A.C.E.O. of P.U.M.A. has not even given me a small courtesy of a response, hence my being forced to seek your kind assistance in this matter.
“I have also informed her of the possibility of going to media on this but still ignore my request.
“So far, I am committed to seeking a response from M.N.R.E. and media ultimately if this fails,” said Fiu in his email to the C.E.O.
According to Fiu, on September 27, 2017 the A.C.E.O. P.U.M.A. finally replied saying she was busy and the files can be viewed at the office because they cannot give out copies.
Fiu emailed back noting the limited avenue for the public to obtain information through P.U.M.A. is “not allowed” to release public information is a concern for him.
“Confining ourselves to view documents and files in the office seems to contravene the intent and spirit of disclosure, notification, and consultation enshrined in Part V of the P.U.M.A. Act 2004.
“Members of the public, like myself, who may have grievances on impacts of developments that may or may not affect us as citizens of this country and desiring accurate information to make informed decisions are denied this opportunity.
“I sincerely hope P.U.M.A. reconsiders this practice as it is indeed our right as your primary client to be facilitated with such service,” said Fiu.
He also noted the files made available by P.U.M.A. staff did not respond fully to his queries, especially a copy of the E.I.A. and the Social Impact Assessment in relation to concerns for the residents living around the Vaivase residential area.
“Notwithstanding the claims that there will be no health impacts to the public, there are clear references in the Initial Environmental Examination report of April 2015 that point clearly to cables containing toxic fluids and emitted electromagnetic radiation that anyone, especially those resident around the Vaivase area cannot be ignored.
“I have read the valid concerns of one Vaivase resident published in the 19 September, 2017 Samoa Observer and concerned about the dismissive response from the Chairman of Samoa Submarine Cable Company (S.S.C.C).
“Naturally, I looked to P.U.M.A. for some public response to help soothe the concerns we as residents of Vaivase rightly harbors. There was none,” said Fiu.
He then sought clarification to ensure there was compliance with these two important conditions for development consent.
“On the broader nature of the S.S.C.C. project, I find that the April 2015 Initial Environment Examination was implemented by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology for A.D.B. and World Bank.
“Kindly clarify if there was an independent examination done for this, and if so, does this satisfy the requirement for E.I.A. under Section 42 of P.U.M.A. Act 2004 and E.I.A. Regulations 2008?
“Also, if the I.E.E. was the "Initial Environment Examination", was there a subsequent Environment Examination?
“Was there some due diligence process and compliance checks on A.D.B. and W.B. in terms of their Environment and Social Safeguards (E.S.S.) policies and regulations on this project and in regards Sections VI of I.E.E. (Anticipated Impacts and Mitigation Measures); Section VII (Grievance Mechanism Redress; Section VIII (Information Disclosure, Consultation, and Participation); Section IX (environment and Social Management Plans) - If there was indeed due diligence process taken, were there any reports and if there were, kindly point us to where we can review them.
“I find it hard to accept that Section VIII can be met or meaningful when only 43 people from Fagalii were consulted on 25 March 2015, yet on the more important citing of the substantive operations and facilities in our Vaivase residential area failed to trigger consultation as required by those donor policies,” said Fiu in his email to the A.C.E.O. of P.U.M.A.
Regarding the Land Acquisition and Resettlement Policy of A.D.B. and W.B, I cannot accept that the Social Safeguard Policy OP4.12 in terms of Involuntary Resettlement is not triggered knowing the clear dangers intimated.
“This means that there will indeed be possibility of living standards adversely affected in our Vaivase residential area as a result of this project and its interventions.
“I ask, did P.U.M.A. and government consider the requirement that ‘Borrower is required to prepare appropriate social safeguards instruments to address every adverse impacts generated as a result of this project activities?
“Were these complied with?
“If so, has there been any consideration of assessing the value of the 'adverse impacts' and related compensation to those duly affected such as the residents of Vaivase?”
Fiu further points out there is undoubtedly many benefits this project will deliver as articulated by government in its alleged publicity stunts and forums on it.
“But I personally find it difficult to accept that in almost all major projects of government there has only been a focus on benefits, profits, economic gains, and very little is done to ensure a balanced approach to address the more important concerns for environmental, social, cultural risks as well as possible negative impacts to the health and lives of those affected.
“P.U.M.A. is looked to provide that security for accountability and some clarity on this entrusted responsibility will help.
“I am even more concerned that despite the clear policies of A.D.B. and W.B. to trigger policies and comply with legal requirements in terms of E.S.S., resettlement, indigenous peoples, and other impacts, noting also there are adequate budgets allocated in development programs from donors to address redress and compensate those affected, it will be most unfortunate if we squander these opportunities at the peril of ensuring good governance principles are respected and complied with, and indeed those duly affected are adequately compensated,” said Fiu to the A.C.E.O. of P.U.M.A.
It was not possible to get a comment from P.U.M.A by press time last night.