Businessman left confused by Prime Minister's ridicule
The Managing Director of the Wilex Samoa company, Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, says he was left confused after receiving a letter from the Prime Minister “out of the blue” ridiculing his business.
Wilex is a locally-owned company that exports koko, noni and taro.
But Tagaloa said he received a letter from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi just before Christmas which questioned the “quality” of Wilex’s chocolate, much to his bemusement.
The two also corresponded at length on their opposing views about the state of cocoa supply in Samoa.
“The Prime Minister is totally misinformed and you can quote me on that,” Tagaloa told the Samoa Observer.
“I responded that as far as I know there is nothing wrong with [our] chocolate, but there is not enough cocoa and then he responded with [a] letter that you have,” said Tagaloa.
Tagaloa refers to a letter, obtained by the Samoa Observer, and dated 4 January 2021 addressed to him in his capacity as the Managing Director of the export company.
In the letter, the Prime Minister addresses Tagaloa as the “Managing Director of the yet to improve chocolate [producers] in Lelata.”
“Thanks for your response,” Tuilaepa continues, before questioning Tagaloa’s claim that there is a lack of cocoa supply in the country which is holding back the industry.
“You said there is not enough supply, yet when I spoke to [... the] Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Lopao’o [Natanielu Mua] they claim there is heaps of cocoa at the farm and they don’t know what to do with it.
“I told them to use the cocoa to mix it with the food to feed the pigs in Nu’u.”
Tuilaepa continued to say that the number one challenge for Wilex was to become the premier chocolate maker not just for the company’s headquarters in Lelata but also for the whole city of Apia.
“If you cannot do that how can you propose to conquer the markets in New Zealand etc.” concluded the Prime Minister.
But Tagaloa, who is also the President of the Samoa Association of Manufacturers and Exports (S.A.M.E.) said the Prime Minister’s criticism was “misinformed”.
The Samoa Observer approached the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua on Wednesday for comment about the letter and the conditions of the local coca market.
He agreed to be interviewed on Thursday morning, but was not present at his office on that day. He had left for Savai’i that morning with the Cabinet Development Committee which was officially opening a number of roads on the big island.
Tagaloa told the Samoa Observer that he sent an email to the Prime Minister’s Secretary Puaaelo Lene and included a promotional video for Wilex Chocolates.
In the email, Tagaloa acknowledged the second letter from the Prime Minister.
“Thank you for your letter received today- I will take heed of your advice and thank you gratefully,” he said.
“FYI- I have attached a video promotion of [Wilex brand] Koko Loa tasting- as you have requested.
“This was carried out by the media - and feedback from the public [is] obviously favourable- with many considering Koko Loa as one of the best [kinds of chocolate] in the world.”
Tagaloa also reminded the Prime Minister that cocoa was only a small slice of the Samoan company’s growing portfolio of goods for export.
“[It] is only 10 per cent of our business due to low production,” he said in his email.
“And yes- I have been working with my friends […] and the [Honourable] Minister of Agriculture- to increase production of cocoa (and other commodities.
“[The] bulk of our business now involves kava, noni, [and] taro - which are now major export commodities [and] items for our country.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the Human Rights Protection Party’s caucus on Wednesday this week, the Prime Minister acknowledged and defended the letter and questioned the Samoa Observer about how it had obtained a copy. The Samoa Observer never reveals its sources.
The Prime Minister rejected that he did not know about the state of cocoa supply in Samoa and said that he was never misinformed when he wrote letters.
“There [is] a lot of cocoa, and I don't just write about anything, I write [my letters] because I know what I'm talking about," he told the Samoa Observer.
It is not the first time that the pair have clashed.
Last August, S.A.M.E. said it would take on the Government over state of emergency trading restrictions and their impact on already-struggling small business if they were not soon eased.
“We are not going to sit quietly, we are going to need to take it up with them and something needs to be done,” Tagaloa said at the time.