Minister rejects Govt.'s deportation claim
The Minister of Public Enterprises, Lautafi Selafi Purcell, has flatly rejected reports from his own Government's spokesman that he was denied entry to Samoa due to coronavirus quarantine measures.
“I was never quarantined in Fiji," the Minister said.
The Minister was asked for a comment after the Government Press Secretariat, Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga told the Samoa Observer that Lautafi was one of the first Samoans to be denied entry into the country for quarantine reasons.
"It's too risky right now. Even our own people we are not giving them exemptions. Our Minister was also denied entry and sent back to Fiji. That's how important and paramount the health precautions are," Nanai told the Samoa Observer in comments carried in Monday's edition.
"He got turned back just like everybody else".
Nanai was contacted again for clarification on the issue on Monday afternoon. He said a response would be forthcoming and hoped it would be ready before the end of the day.
But the Minister explained that he was in Fiji voluntarily and because he was attending the Forum trade Ministers meeting in Suva.
“I was on the same flight that ended up returning the 8 Samoans who had come back from India transiting through Singapore and back to Fiji,” he said.
“I did talk with one of them [Samoans on board] who sat next to me and [I] told him about my official trip.”
Lautafi added when the flight landed in Nadi the Samoans who were quarantined had to go through another immigration booth and health process aside from the one he had taken with the rest of the passengers.
“After Immigration and Customs I went straight away to catch my connecting flight to Suva. I never saw the Samoan passengers again," he said.
Pictures show Lautafi attending the Forum Trade Ministers and Officials forum from February 11 to 13.
The eight Samoans that Lautafi referred to were allowed entry to Samoa on 24 February 2020 after being quarantined in Fiji.
The Samoan citizens were refused entry at the Faleolo Airport after it was discovered they had transited through Singapore, a country that is added on the Government’s quarantined list.
The group include five patients returning from a trip to India for hospital treatment and three of their caregivers.
The Ministry of Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet C.E.O., Agafili Shem Leo, in a letter to the Samoa Observer Editor Mata'afa Keni Lesa late Monday questioned the article published in the Monday edition of the Samoa Observer.
He said the reporter "deliberately omit statements and responses to substantiate information before the article was published".
"The Minister of Public Enterprises, Hon. Lautafi Fio Selafi Purcell confirmed to me today that he did address this inquiry by Wilson on Saturday 29th February 2020 to correct a statement made by the Government Press Secretariat prior to the publication of this edition," the letter stated.
"The Minister was very clear in his verbal confirmation that he was NOT part of the group of Samoans who were returned to Fiji for failure to comply with health border control requirements prescribed in Samoa’s travel advisory for the protection of the country against the coronavirus.
"To set the record straight Hon Lautafi boarded the flight from Faleolo Airport to Nadi for an official duty travel on that day where the group of 8 Samoans were required to return to Fiji. He was not associated with the group. In short the Hon Minister was not ‘deported’ (as being referred to in this article) or returned to Fiji. He boarded the flight from Faleolo for a meeting he was to attend in Fiji."
Agafili said a correction should be made to the article as it was not true