Developments should focus on people, not political motives and aspirations
Two weeks ago, controversy over plans to build the Vaigaga Primary School erupted. It was sparked by the village’s former Member of Parliament, Faumuina Leatinu’u Wayne Fong, who claimed that his village and church had been asked to apologise to Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, if they wanted the project done.
Naturally, the claim raised many eyebrows for the main reason that no one should have to grovel to a Prime Minister, or a government for that matter, to get what they are entitled to.
As Samoans, the children of Vaigaga, like children from any other village in Upolu, Savai’i, Apolima and Manono are entitled to assistance from the Government and donor partners for a basic piece of infrastructure such as a school building. This is not withstanding the Government’s often-used claim that they are a Government for all Samoans, not just people who support them.
But there seems to be more to this little episode than meets the eye. Faumuina has accused the Government of “playing dirty politics” at the expense of his constituents for two reasons.
The first reason centered around his exit from the H.R.P.P, which is a story that has been well told. And then there is the Vaiusu wharf project, which continues to be a hugely controversial subject matter for the villagers and the Government.
“The only reason is because I have not sided with what the Government wanted which is to build the Vaiusu wharf,” Faumuina said. “The worst part is that these are World Bank funds that are meant to build the school, it’s the government’s money.”
We will visit the issue of World Bank funding in a moment.
In the meantime, Tuilaepa as expected, rubbished Faumuina’s claim, calling it stupid. He then went on to say that a proposal submitted for the project was way too costly.
“They brought a ridiculous proposal where it would cost $600,000 for the architectural drawing and $1.2million to build the school,” Tuilaepa said, adding that most primary school buildings cost between $300,000 and $500,000. “And yet for this school building (at Vaigaga), before we even start, $600,000 would have already sunk. We could build three different school buildings with that money.”
Tuilaepa does have a valid point with regards to the cost but here therein is the issue and where we need to revisit the question of World Bank funding. On the front page of the Sunday Samoan, there was a story titled “School project to be locally funded: World Bank.” In that story, the World Bank confirmed that the Government had made the decision to finance the project instead of using the World Bank funds.
“No funds have been ‘withheld’ as has been suggested,” a World Bank spokesperson said.
“Based on findings of a World Bank- funded study completed in late 2019, Vaigaga Primary School was selected by the Government of Samoa to be rebuilt using financing from the World Bank supported Pacific Resilience Program [P.R.E.P.] that was approved by the World Bank’s Board on June 19, 2015.
“In 2018, aligned with usual World Bank procedures to meet country needs, there was a decision to include retrofitting or rebuilding of schools to climate resilient standards – this included the rebuilding of Vaigaga school under Samoa-P.R.E.P. project that fit in the objectives of the project.”
Purely judging from what the World Bank is telling us, the Vaigaga project was not supposed to be your ordinary primary school building. It appears that was to be a pilot project in rebuilding schools to climate resilient standards, which probably explains the proposed cost.
Even with those costs, the World Bank had approved to fund it. But then there was a very telling quote from the World Bank’s Spokesperson, who said: “It is the prerogative of the Samoan Government to decide what specific investments will be financed using World Bank resources.”
Which raises a couple of very interesting questions. Would Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Government have done this if Faumuina was still a Member of the H.R.P.P? Secondly, would they have continued down this path if he had expressed support for the Vaiusu wharf?
The point is that how much role do political affiliations play in these decision-making? Of course the Government can always downplay these factors by saying they are a Government for everyone.
The fact remains, however, that after the World Bank had approved the funding for Vaigaga while Faumuina was a member of the H.R.P.P., all this suddenly changed when he exited the party and pledged his allegiance to the Fa’atuatua I le Atua ua Tasi Samoa (F.A.S.T.).
The most disappointing aspect of all this is that the real victims are the children of Vaigaga. They are just like hundreds of children in Savai’i who received help from the free wifi Internet project rolled out by F.A.S.T., only for it to be stopped by the Government.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to ask questions about such decision-making. What do you think?