M.P. calls for broadcast of Parliamentary hearings
The Member of Parliament for Salega, Olo Fiti Vaai, believes Samoa Parliament committee hearings should be publicly aired.
The M.P. said a recent trip to Parliaments in Canberra and Tasmania, Australia confirmed his view that Parliament hearings must be transparently aired.
“Parliaments in New Zealand and Australia utilise this practice and it is a sign of accountability and transparency," he said.
“I don’t understand why Samoa have to hold Parliamentary Committee hearings behind closed doors.”
Chairpersons and Vice Chairpersons from Parliamentary Committees across the region undertook the study tour to Canberra and Tasmania, Australia.
He said the public has the right to know the performance of the respective Government ministries, authorities and agencies during the review of their annual reports as well as consultations in Parliament.
“To be honest, no one reads their annual reports that are available on government websites; some reports are published two years after the Financial Year.
“And we have to rely on the media, namely the Samoa Observer, to analyse these reports and turn it into articles for the general public to understand and actually know what is going on within certain Ministries,” said the M.P.
“What is so secretive about these hearings? It’s understandable, when it comes to hearings addressing sensitive issues, but proposed bills, consultations, reviewing of finances and annual reports should be open."
The M.P. says he was removed from the Parliamentary Finance Committee on allegations that he leaked out information.
“I would not call that leaking out information; I address the issues as a result of what was discussed in committee after it was tabled and became public information," he said.
“And I would not have to be under scrutiny over that if the Parliament of Samoa follow the Pacific countries allowing the public into committee hearings; Fiji; Tonga, Niue, Australia and New Zealand and American Samoa; the public are allowed to sit in.”
Olo was a member for the Finance Committee; however, he was transferred to the Infrastructure Committee several months ago.
He said it is important the public access committee hearings in review of infrastructure projects such as the proposed wharf in Vaiusu and Asau.
“The public is in the dark on these projects; when it is a major infrastructure,” he said.
In June 2019, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi publicly announced the proposed wharf in Vaiusu will cost around $250 million tala and will be funded by the Chinese Government.
The Prime Minister said the discussions to build the wharf at Vaiusu began during the time of Prime Minister Tupua Tamasese Lealofi; between 1970-1973.
The Salega M.P. told the Samoa Observer the public wants to know how this project will be funded; the costs, and the case for their construction.
“Again the issue around the wharves is like top secret and it begs the question: Why is the Government so secretive about these huge infrastructure,” said Olo Fiti.
Last month the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, said the survey is underway for the proposed wharves.
According to the M.P. “grants” are used as euphemisms for loans but the public debt continues to increase. “It does not make any sense,” he said.
Olo said the Government is “worried about public criticisms” when they should not be.
“Good leaders take the criticisms to look at the projects from a different perspective; not all the reproaches are lame, some actually make sense and they should consider the views of the public," he said.
The Public Account for Financial Year 2018 shows the public debt increased to $1.11 billion from $1.04 billion the year prior, the Ministry of Finance accounts reveal.
The Public Account for Financial Year 2018 shows that the $66 million debt increase is composed of $31 million drawn from the Chinese Government for the Faleolo International Airport upgrade; $2.77 million for the Petroleum Storage Facility; and $17.9 million for the Samoa Power Sector Expansion project.
The Samoa Government owes $440 million to the Chinese government making them the country's current largest creditor.
Second in line are international development organisations such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who have provided loans to the value of $94.61 million, while $24 million is owing to Organisations of Petroleum Exporting Countries (O.P.E.C.).
Domestic borrowing amounts to $19.53 million.