Govt. quashes conflict of interest claim
The controversy surrounding the decision by the Tenders Board, to award the contract for the building of Tanumalala Prison to a company owned by the brother of the Minister of Prisons, resurfaced in Parliament yesterday.
And when it happened, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi immediately leapt to the defense of the Tenders Board, the Minister of Prisons and Correction Services, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt and the Contractor, Alai’asa Schwarz Hunt.
Speaking as the leader of Government, Tuilaepa strongly rejected claims of wrongdoing.
“There is a strong under current behind these criticisms,” he said. “When it comes to big government projects, they are put to tender. When the bids come in, the Tenders Board look at it.”
Tuilaepa added that questions directed at the Minister are also questions aimed directly at him and the integrity of Cabinet.
He assured, however, that everything in relation to the construction of the Prison was done in accordance to the law.
The issue surfaced during the debate of the 2018/2019 Budget debate when Member of Parliament for Salega, Olo Fiti Vaai, addressed the House.
“The only problem with this project is that it wasn’t done right from the start,” Olo said. “In the beginning there was so much murmuring among the public because of the Ministry. This must have been the only multi-million project without a Master plan.
“The usual process is that there should be a Project Manager who works for the contractor, there should be a Clerk of Works, who works for the Ministry and the Government. At the moment, all these roles are carried out by one person.
“The problem is the poor way with which the beginning of the work was done. This is why there are a lot of criticisms, lots of questions.
“If there was a master plan Mr. Speaker, all these variations would be locked in. So let this be a reminder to the Ministers to follow the law then no one would question anything.”
That was when Tuilaepa objected.
“You only bring criticisms, you nitpick to find trouble and you are so good at that.
“Now you are talking about a plan? What plan? There is a master plan. All these were brought from the Tenders Board to Cabinet. It was where the whole picture was given.
“There is also the person supervising the work who is trusted by Cabinet, he is an engineer.”
Olo wouldn’t stop.
“Let me correct the Prime Minister,” he said, “the plan they saw was the plan for the building. There was no Master Plan.”
“What do you mean by Master Plan?” Tuilaepa fired back.
“What do you call that plan? They are following that plan. Do you want a master, master, master plan? This was given to the Tenders Board Committee where the government engineers are members. You are not a civil engineer and yet you are criticizing the work of qualified engineers. You have no knowledge of engineering matters.”
Tuilaepa said Olo doesn’t know what he was talking about.
“The Tenders Board Committee includes the Minister of Works, Minister of Finance and engineers. That’s what they talk about. Here you are talking about engineering matters when that’s what the engineers recite off the top of their heads. But it’s good that you bring these up and we listen because it just reaffirms the kind of M.P. that you are.”
Minister Tialavea also took the floor. He said the plan for the Prison started at the time of Sala as the Minister.
“With questions about the Clerk of Works, the government doesn’t have enough money to fund it,” he said. “My only question is that has there been a variation from the Contractor that’s taken the cost higher than the initial cost of the project which is $7.14million?
“You see, you are beating around the bush but that’s the gist of your queries. This is the only project where you have included a Clerk of Works and an engineer in the Finance Committee but I’m grateful you have done that to prove that there was no connection between myself and how this tender was handled.
“My question, is there an additional funding approved by Cabinet to complete this $7.14million project which is 98 per cent completed? I guess if it weren’t my brother who is doing the work, we would have been faced with a massive variation cost due to the rocky condition of where the project is being built.”
The Chairman of the Finance Committee, Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow, confirmed that no additional funds have been allocated to the contractor in question.