Let’s not forget the Desico Samoa fiasco

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa, 06 May 2019

The good news is that the Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.), Pauli Prince Suhren, is quite optimistic about the Fund’s multi-million-tala equity investments portfolio.

His optimism is revealed in a story titled “S.N.P.F. defends equity investments” published on Wednesday last week in the Samoa Observer.

The not so good news is that the story brought back some bad memories but more on that later.  

Let’s look at the good news first. According to Pauli, the Fund is doing a stellar job with its equity investments.

“The returns from the variety of investments in our entire portfolio allowed us to pay you and all of our other members a 10 per cent return for the year in question,” Pauli said, adding that the “rate of return is virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

Well that’s fantastic isn’t it? A closer look reveals that the Fund’s total equity investments as of 30th June 2018 was $46.85 million, according to the organisation's annual report. The investments comprises of shares in several companies including Computer Services Limited (C.S.L.), Aggie Grey’s Beach Resort and Spa at Mulifanua and the Samoa Submarine Cable Company among others.

With a 3 per cent rate of return noted for all investments, of all the investments though, the one that Pauli is most excited about is the Samoa Submarine Cable Company, which he described as it’s "golden investment".

“The S.N.P.F. considers Samoa Submarine Cable Company as one of its golden investments, not just because of the financial returns it will reap from it in the future, but especially so for the fact that it enables and facilitates greater economic and social benefits for our members and people – contributing to versatile national economic growth and development,” Pauli said.

The C.E.O. went on to remind that without the Samoa Submarine Cable Company there would be no Tui Samoa Cable.

“Tui Samoa cable was activated in February 2018. Since that time you have seen marked improvements in bandwidth availability and speed the likes of which have never before been experienced in Samoa.

“Since that time, the cost per megabyte of internet has reduced by about 70 per cent of what it was before Tui Samoa.

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“New internet-based businesses and app-based companies are popping up here and there because the faster speed internet has enabled a whole new world of possibilities for business and e-business.”

The C.E.O. added he was pleased with the outcome of their investments in the Samoa Submarine Cable Company.

“The Samoa Submarine Cable Company has done an exceptional job in achieving its mandate and is now working towards bringing in its second cable, the Manatua cable, which will bring in even more benefits for Samoa.”

Again that’s fantastic news, which Pauli and the Fund ought to be congratulated for. But the story is also a reminder that the S.N.P.F. hasn’t always gotten it right with its investments. The name Desico Samoa is hard to forget.

Several years ago, a couple of Sri Lankans came to Samoa and saw an opportunity to set up a company called Desico Samoa Ltd. Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Government was desperate for foreign investors so these Sri Lankans exploited the need.

As these types do, they promised “millions of tala” for the local economy through trade, jobs, foreign exchange and so forth but there was a slight problem since they did not have the money.

What they did have was a grand idea to use the Samoan people, especially contributors of the S.N.P.F., to get the money. What they did was that they then approached the S.N.P.F., which was under the guidance of then General Manager, Papali’i Panoa Moaala and they got the money.

What followed was an official opening, a cocktail, there were press conferences after press conferences to talk up the plan and the hoopla went on for a while.

But like most things that are too good to be true, the party soon ended. You see the company hit a snag and it immediately evaporated into thin air.

What happened exactly has never been explained and we will probably never know. All we know is that millions of tala that belonged to S.N.P.F contributors – including some of the poorest people in this country - disappeared as quickly as it was handed to these foreigners.

It was a mess, a mighty mess.

Looking back now, the S.N.P.F. has moved on. It has had two other General Managers since the Desico fiasco and from what Pauli is saying, he’s pretty confident Desico will not be repeated.

We sure hope so. We say this because just about every other day on the pages of this newspaper, there are stories of people who are crying out for basic help. They don’t have water, some don’t have electricity, others suffer from poverty and hardship. Imagine if the millions lost and wasted in Desico was given to them to address their problems?

Have a great day Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa, 06 May 2019

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