Acting on the the Audit Report findings into a World Bank Project

US$16.16 million (WST40 million) is a lot of money by any standard and if half of the project funding is coming from the World Bank, then we have to sit up and make it our business to find out.

The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project was established to support Samoan fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers to improve their productivity and take advantage of market opportunities.

It was approved in March 2012 and was scheduled to close in December last year. The total cost of the project was US$16.16 million with the World Bank committing US$8 million. The project had three components: livestock production and marketing; fruit and vegetable production and marketing and; institutional strengthening.

Tragically, an Auditors Report into the project for the period July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 identified what it described as “high risk” practices, which needed immediate attention.

The practices included the furnishing of misleading information, which after a site visit by the auditors, compelled them to conclude that the project is incomplete or didn’t exist! The audit report further stated that the practices were a direct violation of the terms of the grant. 

Sadly, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) Chief Executive Officer, Tilafono David Hunter, hasn’t responded to telephone calls or emails that were made and sent by the Samoa Observer seeking his comment. Attempts to get a comment from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu, was also unsuccessful. 

The silence from the CEO and the Minister – in response to emails and phone calls from this newspaper – is deafening and unacceptable, especially for such a high-profile project that a lot of Samoan farmers in urban and rural communities were pinning their hopes on. And if an audit report uncovered questionable practices within the project, then the public deserve full disclosure. 

If the findings of the audit report are factual and true, then this has to be another case of Samoa’s ordinary farmers being let down by the project implementers. We hope the audit report findings should compel the relevant authorities to begin work to identify those responsible and ensure they are brought to justice. 

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And for such a large multimillion dollar project such as the Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project, there is very scant information available publicly on its progress and impact on the targeted communities on both Upolu and Savai’i. 

Our own checks for any information on the project on the world wide web (other than World Bank generated content as well as news websites such as Samoa Observer) – which would be available publicly at the touch of a button anywhere in the world – led us to a Facebook page which was set up by the MAF in 2014.

This social media account was set up close to 2 years after the project was approved and only had five photographs of community consultations! These five photographs were all posted on the same day – March 12, 2014. There was no other content, despite the project having a December 2018 closing date. 

Perhaps our colleagues in the public service need to be reminded of their responsibilities to the people of Samoa, especially for a project would have had long-term benefits for ordinary Samoan farmers, who continue to appeal for direct Government support to enable them to get into small scale commercial agriculture. 

To put the benefits of the project in perspective, I have extracted the following from the World Bank website.

The first component of the project is livestock production and marketing. The objective of this component will be to encourage interested livestock producers to upgrade livestock, improve husbandry practices and stock management, make productivity enhancing on-farm investments, and improve the quality of meat sold in the local market. The second component of the project is fruit and vegetable production and marketing.

The objective of this component will be to enable interested fruit and vegetable growers to have access to new, higher yielding varieties, adopt improved technology and production techniques, make productivity enhancing on-farm investments, and organize themselves to strengthen their presence in the market and meet the demands of local retailers and foodservice operators for year-round supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables. The third component of the project is institutional strengthening.

The objective of this component will be to improve the effectiveness of agricultural institutions (government and non-government) providing extension and adaptive research services to Samoan farmers; and the ability of these same institutions working individually or in collaboration with each other to implement and monitor the project effectively

Now lets hope the relevant agencies including the MAF CEO and Minister tell us how they intend to deal with the findings of the audit report. The allegations are serious and if the matter should be escalated further for proper criminal investigations then it should be done. Let us not continue to treat the ordinary farmers of Samoa with contempt.

Have a wonderful Monday and God bless. 

 

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