Alarming inconsistencies in the application of laws and rules
The continuing criticisms of the Government’s now infamous $600,000 Vaia’ata Prison projects are expected. They are unlikely to go away in a hurry.
From what has been revealed publically so far, the implementation by the Government and how they broke their own rules has all the hallmarks of how not to run a project. For a Government that gloats about good governance, accountability and transparency, the contradictions in the application of the rules are difficult to ignore.
So much so even members of the public cannot help but question the consistency when it comes to standards and procedures.
Take the Owner of Fang Enterprises Ltd, Muliagatele Wilson Fang, for example. The businessman was recently fined $5,000 for constructing a warehouse without a building permit. We do not for a second condone Muliagatele’s behaviour since we believe rules exist for a reason and they must be observed. If the law says a building permit is required before a project begins, then so be it and it must apply to everyone – including Government projects.
The fact Fang Enterprises did not have a permit, whether deliberate or not, gave the Government every right to issue a fine.
But Muliagatele has a legitimate point when he referred to the fact that the construction of the Vaia’ata Prison by prisoners began up to nine months before it received development consent.
“Why don’t you ask them [Government] for those things then?” the businessman said. “I am a very humble businessman and don’t like to break the law. I am a local citizen helping the community and the developments for Samoa.”
It’s hard to disagree with Muliagatele. The Government has to set an example about compliance with the rules, which unfortunately in this case, we cannot say they have. The construction of the prison without a permit was just one aspect where they broke their own laws. There are other questions about the tender process, safety, building code and concerns about having prisoners build their own sanctuary. The idea is wrong on so many levels.
On Sunday, a former Member of Parliament, Lefau Harry Schuster, added his voice to criticisms, saying the Government had set a bad example about bypassing procurement processes and planning laws.
“We all obey the law because it should be followed, but when lawmakers choose not to follow the law, then you ask me and everyone else: ‘Why should we follow the law if they don’t follow the law themselves?” Lefau asked.
“Not only are they not following the law they are wasting our resources. When you are flagrant and you choose not to follow the law it is like saying I am above the law as nothing will happen to me.
“They need to lead by example [...] people elect leaders and [they are] trusted to set good examples. These are public funds being used to build this prison, therefore it should have gone through the tendering processes to ensure that qualified and certified contractors [were used].”
Lefau could not have said it better but he’s not the first one to raise this point. Last month, former Member of Parliament, Faumuina Wayne Fong, hammered the same issue, calling for leadership in following the rules.
“The [M.W.T.I.] is always intervening in the building of families, even when it is just an outside kitchen, saying they want the blueprint, the consent and the permit from P.U.M.A.,” Faumuina said. “And yet, it is nothing compared to this (how they had prisoners build the project without a permit). I bet with the people of the nation now, they are thinking they should also be building our homes without permits…”
Both Lefau and Faumuina make a very valid point. Why should ordinary members of the public care about rules and laws when the very people making them do not? That is undoubtedly the million-tala question.
Which brings us to another point made by former Salega East M.P., Olo Fiti Vaai, whom last week called for a criminal probe into the project. The veteran politician said disciplinary action should be considered against senior figures within Government who allowed the project to proceed without proper consent.
“There was no permit, no tender and he should have known all of this,” Olo said. “There was no permit for the works and there was a recommendation from an internal engineer that the materials used were not [aligned] with the project, this means the project should have been stopped ages ago.”
Olo also zeroed in on the tender process, arguing that the Ministry of Finance should have insisted on the project being tendered. Given all that, Olo believes the Attorney General should look into the project with the view of charges since “they have not followed policies and laws.”
Said Olo: “I am asking the Attorney General as the head of the prosecution, what are you doing about this?”
Well that’s a valid question. But don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer. This is just another example of different strokes for different folks!
Still, stay tuned!