Land reclamation angers Vaigaga Village council

A village’s proposed mangrove replanting project has been halted after a Chinese businessman began reclaiming land, which were earmarked for the project.

Vaigaga village on the northwest coast of Upolu had agreed to do a mangrove replanting programme, in a bid to mitigate the effects of climate change, and submitted a proposal to the United Nations Development Programme’s Small Grant Programme last year for funding support.

But the Vaigaga Village Council discovered that businessman, Tu’itu’ioaiga Teeking Weng, had begun to reclaim some of the land that the village had included in its proposed project.

Local Member of Parliament, Leatinu’u Wayne So’oialo, told the Samoa Observer that the village council was disappointed with the businessman’s actions and lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.).

“We are waiting for our application that was submitted to U.N.D.P. and then the village was complaining about the reclamation project, and we saw it when we conducted a site visit hence filing an official complaint with the M.N.R.E." 

“Our application for funding was submitted by the Vaigaga Komiti to the UNDP – for funds through the Small Grant Program to replant mangroves – and then we find out there has been reclamation in this area,” he said.

Following the lodgment of the complaint, MNRE Assistant CEO (Planning and Urban Management), Fetoloai Yandall Alama, told this newspaper recently that Tu’itu’ioaiga was issued a stop order in September last year. The Ministry also gave the businessman a development consent permit, which Fetoloai said is to build a fence around his property and is not for land reclamation. 

Despite the intervention by the MNRE through the stop work order, Tu’itu’ioaiga was adamant – in an interview with this newspaper – that the reclaimed land is his and the stop order is for rubbish that he tried to dispose on his land.

“The stop order was for the trash, and we have already removed the rubbish to Tafaigata area and they (MNRE) think that we buried the trash here." 

“I know did not get a permit because the reclaim was inside and not outside. Again, I took rubbish to be buried there, but people complain and then MNRE came to check and said that this type of building material can’t be buried there. And I already moved the rubbish to Tafaigata and this is inside the fence,” he said.

Ofusina Ieremia of the UNDP has confirmed that a proposal for the replanting of mangroves is pending with the Small Grants Program.

“The proposal is on hold due to some issues that’s left unresolved in the village. The MNRE and PUMA are working with the community in resolving these issues,” she said.

The MNRE also has a representative sitting on the Board of the Small Grant Program, added Fetoloai, who assists with evaluating and assessing submitted proposals. 

Fetoloai said it was the Ministry’s board representative who asked if a permit was issued for the land reclamation, which subsequently led to an investigation and the issuing of a stop order to Tu’itu’ioaiga.

“Then we issued a stop order in the first week of September 2018 – and notified him that he needs to stop all the work on the land – and for him to come into the office, to apply for development consent and up to now Teeking Weng has not come into the office." 

“I can confirm that as of last week we conducted another site visit, and there is nothing happening on site and that the land has overgrown, which means he has changed his mind or he’s waiting for the time to come in – to inform us on the proposed development his intentions are for his property,” she added.

For Leatinu’u, the issue of climate change is critically important for his people, and mangroves will play a vital role over the long-term period in mitigating its effects.

“I don’t have to tell you the importance of mangroves and the fight we have against climate change. Mangroves have the ability to store vast amounts of carbon, mangrove forests are key weapons in the fight against climate change, but they are under threat worldwide. By protecting mangroves, we can help protect the future of our planet,” he said.

The MNRE is currently working with the Attorney General’s Office on the next steps in relation to the disputed land, says Fetoloai, following the issuing of the stop order in September last year. 

When she was asked on whether Tu’itu’ioaiga will be panelized for non-compliance, she said: “I do know they have sent a request to the Attorney General’s Office for assistance in the matter for further enforcement measures.” 

This newspaper is yet to hear from the MNRE Legal Division, after they were sent questions seeking an update on their interactions with the Attorney General’s Office.

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