The deficiencies of the Vaiusu Wharf project

Debate over the viability of the Government’s Vaiusu Wharf project has been ongoing and came to a head recently, when the Urban West M.P. Faumuina Wayne Fong asked if there is a military connection to the Chinese-funded $250 million project.

The M.P. was responding to criticism last week by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who was critical of Faumuina’s opposition to the multimillion dollar project and claimed that it would benefit local families.

“Why would a small country like Samoa with exports of about 30 per cent of [its economic output] and imports about 40 per cent of [its economy] need a wharf to cater for 12 vessels?,” asked the Urban West M.P. on Monday. “Definitely not for exports and imports hence why I say it must be a military wharf.”

But the Chinese Embassy in Apia was quick to reject any suggestions of a military agenda behind the wharf project, telling the Samoa Observer on Tuesday that Faumuina’s comments were “groundless”.

And in an update, the Embassy Spokesperson added that they are doing a feasibility of the project at the request of the Samoa Government.

Only time will tell if the military connection to the proposed wharf, which Faumuina made reference to in his analysis, will materialise. 

But as the M.P. with responsibility for his constituents, who live around the project’s impact area in Vaiusu Bay, do we blame him for concocting the military line when very little information on the project has been released publicly by the Government?

As it currently stands the specifications of the Vaiusu Wharf project remains a closely guarded secret, though there has been dribs and drabs of information released publicly in recent years, courtesy of the Prime Minister or a Cabinet Minister and senior Government officials, normally in response to critics.

Therefore, we can imagine the difficulties that the Urban West M.P. often finds himself in, when members of his constituency turn up at his office, either to seek more information or express their concerns, as social media goes into overdrive over another Chinese-funded project that could add to Samoa’s growing national debt.

With the information vacuum that currently exists on the project, it has become obvious from comments by the Prime Minister last month that the project is going ahead despite the concerns expressed by the local M.P.

“And the Government will not go back on good developments,” Tuilaepa said during his weekly programme last month. “One person’s interference will also not be taken as an opinion from the whole of Vaiusu when he is not even a matai (chief) from Vaiusu.

“It’s a pity, the person is pathetic. He is not a Vaiusu matai.

“So it is up to Government how they implement their projects for the future [of Samoa].

“He has wealth; once he wakes up, he eats steak, while the many children of Vaiusu, Vaitele, Vaigaga and Vailoa have no jobs. 

It is sad that the Prime Minister has, yet again, chosen to personalise debate on an issue that will ultimately impact a community that has depended on a fishing livelihood that has sustained their families for thousands of years.

Citizens would want their leaders to present data based on independent feasibility studies to justify a proposed project, and engage in rational debate with the relevant stakeholders including elected representatives, rather than mount a campaign of disparagement that does not add value to the national discourse. 

Due to the lack of information publicly on this Chinese-funded project there are questions abound needing answers:

Does the community have to be relocated due to the loss of their fishing livelihood as a consequence of the project?

And what guarantee is there for residents living in areas from Vaiusu to Faleula to find employment in such a project when we know from other similar infrastructure projects in the region that Chinese State-owned companies that led the projects normally bring in their own labour?

What would be the terms of the loan agreement that would be negotiated between Samoa and China to cover the cost of the project?

And what sort of economic returns has the Samoa Government projected for the country in a post-COVID-19 global economy following the completion of the project hence justifying the need to sign off on another multimillion tala loan?

And not forgetting too the Government’s paltry record in utilising major infrastructure following massive investment, specifically wharves that cost millions of tala in public funding and to this day remain unused.

The Satitoa wharf at Aleipata that cost US$8 million and remains closed to this day, and the Salelologa wharf in Savai’i that made a futile attempt in 2006 to become an international port, only for the first container vessel to be grounded on approach.

The fact of the matter is there are a lot of questions and very few answers when it comes to the Vaiusu Wharf project, and this is disappointing for a Government led by the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.) whose manifesto espouses “observation of good governance principles of accountability and transparency”.

From our standpoint – this project’s progress has not been in line with the principles of accountability, transparency and good governance – if it is to be measured against these benchmarks that this Government itself has professed it will stand by. 

Is this multimillion tala project for the people and by the people? We let you be the judge.

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