The $2.8 million question needs answers

By The Editorial Board 13 March 2024, 10:00AM

‘Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark,’ is a line from William Shakespeare’s renowned play Hamlet. In Act One Scene Four, Marcellus and Horatio are debating whether to follow the ghost of the old king when Marcellus utters this line, which on a symbolic level sums up the corrupting effect on the kingdom which is going unpunished.

Similarly, something smells rotten in the $2.8 million legal settlement for land compensation in Tiapapata that was to be paid by the Government.

Attorney General Sua Hellene Wallwork has to be commended for something that the government is showing very little of, accountability. She has stopped the unsanctioned compensation saying it was way over the market value for the land and questions the involvement of ministers who are not even supposed to be involved in this.

Sua has now ordered an investigation into how the amount reached this value and how such an offer was made without the involvement of her office and a directive from the cabinet. This sure does smell rotten.

The land is in Tiapapata and the owner of the land asked the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt to intervene in the matter and help. It seems this cabinet minister is meddling in the affairs of other ministries more than once. Did he not just direct a senior police officer to investigate the 2021 hit-and-run tragedy?

As a result, the police officer was suspended and has been charged with conspiracy and fabricating evidence. A matter which is before the courts.

La’auli wrote a letter to the A.G. requesting an update on Ms. Fong's land issue as there was a holdup in resolving it from the A.G. and the S.W.A. He added Ms. Fong had asked for assistance and he requested the A.G. to assist Ms. Fong.

The Office of the Attorney General in this case was never made aware of the negotiations from the beginning between the parties and there was no Cabinet Directive copied to her office about the matter.

On 2 May 2023, the S.W.A. lawyer wrote to Ms. Fong’s lawyer offering $2.8 million to settle the case against S.W.A.

The A.G. said she wrote to the Prime Minister raising some concerns about the offer which included the $2.8 million offer as more than the valuation provided by Ms. Fong of $1.7 million and $2.1 million.

It is also worrying that S.W.A. agreed to pay an amount of money that they did not have. Does S.W.A. think they every time they do not have the funds, the government will put their hands into the public purse and bail them out?

Even the Ministry of Finance confirmed there was no funding allocation for an unexpected agreement like this.

What has happened now is that following the intervention by the Office of the Attorney General, the offer is off the table and all the parties are to go back to the negotiation table.

It seems that Ms. Fong is the victim in this matter when it comes to compensation for the damage done to the land by S.W.A. She has all the right to be compensated. S.W.A. has come with the offer to purchase the land, something they should have done in the first place.

Ms. Fong as any owner would do is trying to make the most of the offer, however, the valuation of the land is far less. There is still hope for her as she can choose to return to the negotiations and if she is not happy with the new amount, she is always free to pursue the matter in court.

This matter has brought up how easily taxpayers’ money has been wasted in the past paying much higher prices than what the land is worth. The Attorney General has intervened at an opportune time and while an investigation into the abnormalities of this case happens, we hope the Office of the Attorney General can look up older offers made in similar ways, where more than the worth of land has been paid out.

The Prime Minister has also a part to play here. She needs to put her foot down and put a stop to the meddling in the affairs of other ministries by ministers who are not responsible for the portfolio. There should also be a check on how many such directives the ministers who are responsible have given without cabinet directives.

We look forward to what the outcome of the investigation will be.

By The Editorial Board 13 March 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

Upgrade to Premium

Subscribe to
Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy unlimited access to all our articles on any device + free trial to e-Edition. You can cancel anytime.