$147 million Faleolo airport, Ti’avea project and white elephant called the Satitoa Wharf

At the beginning of 2018, the Government accomplished one of its proudest achievements in recent time with the official opening of the upgraded Faleolo International Airport.

Costing a whopping $147 million tala, the state-of-the-art facility which has since seen the addition of two aerobridges among other improvements, was all part of the Government’s grand plan to make Samoa the “aviation hub of the South Pacific.”

Naturally, it was a proud moment for Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. Why not? At the opening ceremony, he commended the quality and scale of the project assuring that the vision was to build something that would serve Samoa well into 50 years.

 “As envisioned by the Government, these new terminal buildings will assist tourism growth in our country, in addition to boosting economic development through air transport facilitation and trade," Tuilaepa said.

Funded by China, that country’s Ambassador to Samoa at the time, Wang Xuefeng, boasted that the new Faleolo International Airport had “become the best international airport in all the Pacific Island countries.”

Said Mr. Xuefeng: “We can’t help marveling at the miracle that was achieved in two years. With the upgraded services, excellent operation capability and aviation management, Samoa has moved a step further toward the aviation hub in the South Pacific region.”

Well that was wonderful, wasn’t it? Who wouldn’t be proud of such an achievement? What proud Samoan wouldn’t be impressed by such an accomplishment?

But that was two years ago.

On the front page of last Saturday’s Weekend Observer, a story titled “Ti'avea to become alternative international airport” revealed quite an alarming discovery about the $147million facility. According to the report, the Government is looking at making the Ti’avea Airport, which is being constructed as we speak, Samoa’s alternative international airport.

Why? Well a study has apparently found that the brand new Faleolo International Airport could be rendered “unusable due to waves caused by cyclones.”

The Samoa Airport Authority Chief Executive Officer, Silimana’i Ueta Solomona, said this is why the construction of the Ti’avea airport is a critical piece of infrastructural development for Samoa.

 “The extension of Tiavea came about after initial findings of a report being prepared by a research team from Japan stated an elevated risk of Faleolo being inundated from wave action during cyclones due to its proximity to the sea," Silimana’i said.

“Government believes that whilst works are ongoing at Ti’avea, it is the ideal time that the overall airport planning considers an extension to ensure that an alternate is available for continuity of air operations.”

Silimina’i did not reveal when the study was conducted and why it was conducted.

Still, this revelation about the spanking new Faleolo airport is astonishing; it is mind-blowing if our opinion is sought. The question is did not one person think of this before the re-designed Faleolo airport was approved? After all those millions of tala were sunk into Faleolo, and now all of a sudden this critical piece of information has surfaced? Are we missing something here somewhere? Or would it be fair to say something simply doesn’t add up?

For a facility costing that much money and dubbed the ”best international airport” in the Pacific, only to be found that it could be rendered totally useless a couple of years down the line, it has got to be one of the biggest jokes around, if only it wasn’t funny.

Come to think of it, the Ti’avea Airport itself has been plagued by controversy from day one. What with the cost of the project ballooning to more than $17 million tala with countless budget variations and key questions of safety given its location, what guarantee do we have that the Tiavea Airport wouldn’t follow the same fate?

To be fair to the Government, we must acknowledge that they are trying to improve Samoa’s airport infrastructure with these developments. We cannot fault them for that.

But revelations such as the one about the Faleolo International Airport’s viability during the weekend just make you wonder. You’d think with $147 million down the gurgler that someone would raise the alarm about cyclones and the impact they could have? You’d think with all this talk about climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion, someone somewhere could’ve factored this in?

Yet it appears none of it was flagged whatsoever. And so today, given all the obstacles and controversies, the Government’s response is to pump more millions into the Tiavea Airport to justify its existence? Absolutely staggering.

What do we make of all this if our opinion was sought?

All we can think of is that white elephant called the Satitoa Wharf where the Government sunk close to $20 million of hard-earned taxpayers money? The deteriorating state of that project should serve as a reminder to the Government today not to take the same path they took then. What do you think?

Stay safe Samoa, God bless!








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