Former Airline chief wants change, sounds alarm

The former Chief Executive Officer of Polynesian Airlines, Fauo'o Fata Tielu wants a change in Government leadership.

"They have been in there for far too long and they are beginning to become undemocratic in the running of the Government," Fauo'o told the Samoa Observer in an interview.

The 60-year old is running in the Va’a o Fonoti constituency as an independent, but he’s aligned to the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party. 

Fauo'o, the former top man at Polynesian Airlines who turned the airline’s debts around to a profit, lamented the move by the Government to revive international flights for Samoa through what is now called the Samoa Airways.

“This [airline] will bankrupt the Samoan government; they cannot afford to fund Samoa Airways. They should have never revoked the agreement with [Virgin Blue],” said Taua.  

He also opposes three pieces of legislation proposing to reshape the judiciary system in Samoa. 

The bills, which are currently in their second reading and being reviewed by a Parliamentary Committee, are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020.

He then turned to the Government policy of taxing of church ministers. 

“They play a massive role in keeping the peace within the country and that, to me, is far more valuable than taxes," he said.

He made a comparison to illustrate his objection.

"Fishermen and farmers are not paying taxes and yet these people are feeding our physical being whereas the Church Ministers feed us the word [of God] for our spirits, so what is the difference?," he said.

"I want to remind [the Government] that when Christianity arrived in Samoa, there was civil war between the respective constituencies over titles and not long after the war was over. 

“That should have been considered by the Government and to recognise the important role they play in keeping order in the communities before they went ahead with the taxing of church ministers.” 

He said that in other countries, Governments have to call in armies when there are protests getting out of hand, but that does not happen in Samoa. 

According to Fauo'o, churches prior to establishing in the villages must be accepted by the village councils first. 

“The interaction there speaks volumes between the chiefs and church ministers in keeping the peace in the villages and that is unique and very important," he said.

Regarding Samoa Airways, Fauo'o asid that when he was appointed C.E.O. its debts were $300 million; by the time he exited there was $12 million profit. 

“I think it is the wrong move to revive international flights, we should seek partnerships with other bigger airlines to survive the market. The airline business is always challenging and there should be financial stability," he said.

He said that after paying off the debts that “almost bankrupted” the government, the airline was making $2 million in profits and yet that was just the route between the two Samoas.

Another issue that Fauo'o pointed to was the building of the $17 million Ti'avea Airport. 

“This is one of the projects the Government knew is a bad investment yet they still went ahead with it,” he said. 

He said that the project should have never been built in the first place. 

In January, the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, said that the Government had to alter the original design of the Ti'avea Airport due to interference from villagers.

As a result of extra work caused by waterlogged land, an additional $3 million variation was approved by the Tenders Board as a "necessary" variation, Papali’i explained.

But he told the Samoa Observer that the variation was directly awarded by the Government and did not go through a tender process. The project was, however, approved by the Tenders Board. 

Papali’i said that there will be another variation of the airport project and that will certainly be up for tender.  

In April, it was revealed by the Samoa Airport Authority (S.A.A.) Chief Executive Officer, Silimana’i Ueta Solomona that an additional $190,000 would be spent on expanding the runway.

That was to ensure safety standards are met and so it could function as an alternative airport.  

But in August a photographic drone was used to measure the length of the cleared runway at the site and it came up with 956 metres, or more than 1.7km short of the distance required at a minimum to land a Boeing 737-800, which is the type of aircraft being used by Samoa’s national carrier, Samoa Airways.

That led to widespread criticism by international and local experts in aviation. 

But the General Manager of the Samoa Airport Authority (S.A.A.), Silimana’i Ueta Solomona Jr., said that the $17 million Ti'avea Airport was “never designed” to service a Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Silimana'i also dismissed criticism that the new airport lacked necessary equipment to guide passenger aircraft in for landing, arguing that navigation requirements had moved on from the old days. Silimana'i said satellite-based technology replacing the need for conventional navigation aids.

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