Golf, conflict of interest, New York and the persecution of Christians in China

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 29 September 2018, 12:00AM

Well it’s been an interesting week. Judging from the stories on the pages of this newspaper; there is never really a dull moment in this slice of paradise we call home. The good, the bad and ugly, you name it we have it all. 

Indeed, don’t let the smallness and the sleepiness of island time fool you; there is a lot happening. Let’s start with the good news. 

While Tony Finau, who has Samoan connections, is dominating headlines around the world for making the U.S. Ryder Cup team, we welcomed U.S.-based Samoan golf professional, Scott Puailoa. The name might not be too familiar with many people but Puailoa is a pioneer in his own right given he was the first Samoan to rub shoulders with some of the world’s best golfers in his prime. And having done his dash as a player, Puailoa is today one of the top elite mentors of the game. 

Which is what brought him to Samoa. With assistance from the U.S. Embassy, he has been sharing his knowledge with the local golf fraternity through clinics, academic talks and sessions with young golfers.

“The passion and the love came from the fact that I am part Samoan, I have a Samoan last name, I have a passion for the culture”, he said. “This is a big deal for me to come down and give back to the kids of Samoa.”

Well that’s nice. It’s good to see other sports being developed away from rugby. Who knows, there might be another Tony Finau or maybe a Puailoa or two in the mix of young players who were involved this week.

Away from Puailoa’s visit, we also welcomed who’s who of the Pacific Judiciary to Samoa at the beginning of the week for Chief Justice, his Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu and his team played chief host to the 27th Pacific Judicial Conference held at Taumeasina Island Resort. The meeting was attended by Chief Justices, Deputy Chief Justices and Judges from all across the Pacific, New Zealand and the United States of America. 

It wasn’t just legal matters on the table, the meeting also delved into human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime, illegal fishing, climate change and more. There is no doubt that these are some of the most pressing challenges confronting the Pacific today. We need to be talking about them, creating meaningful conversations and coming up with workable solutions that are Pacific specific. The Judiciary plays such a vital role in addressing these problems and we hope the week in Samoa was fruitful.

 In the political front, all eyes are in New York where world leaders – including Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi - are gathering for the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Tuilaepa has yet to deliver Samoa’s statement, which is a pity because whatever he says, will likely to be lost amidst the storm that has been generated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s address earlier this week.

But then perhaps Tuilaepa might want to hurry home where some of his Government’s plans have come under immense scrutiny. Take for instance the decision endorsed by himself and Cabinet to award a major Airport contract to a company connected to a senior member of the H.R.P.P. who is also Tuilaepa’s Associate Minister in the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga.

In Tuilaepa’s absence, another senior Cabinet Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Tenders Board, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, stepped up and tried his best to fend off questions of conflict of interest.

 “The process put in place for tendering of projects does not seek to discriminate. It is a fair process for the contractors, who are eligible to carry out mandates of the contract,” Papali’i said.

Put to Papali’i that the awarding of the contract to Peseta was a clear case of conflict of interest, he said that concern is “besides the point”, as the company had the lowest bid. 

“The company is run and operated by Peseta’s son. Regardless who owns the contract, the fact remains they were the lowest bidder.” 

“This company has the ability to see this contract through and that is what I looked at. As long as we know this is the best price for the Government in saving money and we can’t discriminate this company.”

It was then put to Papali’i by this newspaper that there are policies in place to ensure the integrity of a public tender process, and to guard against Cabinet ministers getting involved in publicly-funded projects. But he was adamant that there was nothing wrong with the Tenders Board’s decision.

“I know what you are saying. They (Ministers) should have stayed away completely and let their children run the business but sometimes they don’t.

“However, the businesses are run by their children. Some Ministers and Associate Ministers have removed their name as directors and are not involved.” 

Well here’s the truth. A search of company records at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) shows the Associate Minister is the major shareholder of the company.

Now forget the cost for a moment. What about the H.R.P.P’s catch-cry of transparency, accountability and good governance? When does that apply and when does it not? Are we to shut our eyes to cases of conflicts of interest since everything is about money now?

We’ve also been told that the Ti’avea Village Council wants the Government to pay $5.58 million for 23 acres of land to build the airport. The village has a point. The question is, if that is the case, how much will this airport end up costing? $10million, $15million or more than $20million with all the variations we are likely to see? What a glorious waste of money we don’t even have.

Speaking of money, another eyebrow raising story surfaced this week. It involves the payment of $622,500 for a piece of land at Olomanu, which the Government had already spent $9 million tala.

The issue has been questioned by the Finance and Expenditure Committee, which has recommended an investigation to find out what happened. We couldn’t agree more. 

More than half a million tala is a lot of money, an amount that could easily be spent to help many people in this country who need it. Think of those children on the streets, the beggars across the country and the families in the villages who are living in poverty and want help. 

Lastly, since it’s Sunday in Samoa and everyone here is free to worship God, think of those Christians in China who are being tormented by that country’s administration. From the stories we have seen this week, China is intensifying its crackdown on religion, with images and crosses being burned and destroyed at Christian churches. 

The crosses are being replaced with objects such as the Chinese flag and photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Communist Party leader Mao Zedong.

Here are two hard facts to consider. 

Firstly Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration has recently changed the Constitution of this country to reflect that it is an official Christian state. Secondly, Samoa and China have undoubtedly become the best of friends. It was only two weeks ago that Tuilaepa was happily shaking President Xi’s hand in Beijing, the very man whom the Chinese government wants people to worship.

Where does the Samoan Government stand in the persecution of these Christian brothers and sisters? 

Have restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 29 September 2018, 12:00AM

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