No military intentions for Vaiusu wharf: Minister
The proposed Vaiusu wharf will become Government-owned infrastructure and is not a military wharf for the Chinese Government, says the Minister of Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papalii Niko Lee Hang.
The Minister said the project will have direct benefits for the constituency of Faleata 2, especially the villages of Vaiusu, Vailoa and Vaigaga.
He said construction of the wharf is scheduled for 2021-2026, though he expressed disappointment that local M.P. Faumuina Wayne Fong continues to oppose the project.
Faumuina has been a vocal critic of the proposed project and has questioned its viability and whether it will increase the levels of debt that Samoa owes to the Chinese.
“Who will be responsible to pay for the wharf loan of $250 million?,” the independent M.P. asked.
“The children and grandchildren of Vaiusu will suffer in the long run. We still owe China $400 million in debts from the past. We do not have enough coconuts to repay the Chinese back for all these loans,” said Faumuina in earlier comments.
“Our constituency depends on the mangrove and Vaiusu Bay for their livelihood and consumption.”
Faumuina said that Vaiusu, Vaigaga and Vailoa will not depend on the wharf for jobs because not all the constitutency's 4,800 voters will find employment in the project and instead rely on the sea.
However, in the Parliament on Wednesday night, Papalii was adamant that the chiefs in Vaiusu and the neighbouring villages support the project.
“Mr Speaker, there are residents of Faleata Constituency and Village Councils have reached out to me and commended the Government for this project that will benefit the constituency,” the Minister said.
“However it’s evident that the father [figure] of the constituency continues to object and Mr Speaker, Fiame [Naomi Mata’afa] and [opposition party leader] La’auli Leuatea Schmidt supported this project during their time in Cabinet.
"My request to you as leaders of the Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi to consult with [Faumuina] that he will not score any points for this but rather deducted points if he continues to object.”
Faleata Constituency M.P. Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi then took the floor and emphasised that Faumuina is not the father figure of Faleata 2 constituency.
“I am the father [figure] of the constituency at the moment and I have seen the plans for the wharf extend to Vaitele and if they don’t want the project then name it the Vaitele wharf, to eliminate all criticism,” said Leala.
“After all the wharf’s extension takes up a huge part of Vaitele. The M.P. [Faumuina] is not a Chief of Vaiusu.”
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said the Government does not need to heed what he characterised as "nonsense" about the wharf.
“When the Government plans a project for the benefit of the people as they foresee and this M.P. has no right to the ocean which the wharf will be built," he said.
"This is what happens when the said M.P. comments on issues he does not understand.
"The Constitution defines public land as all land lying below the line of high watermark or the line of median high tide between the spring and neap tides.
“Article 104 of the Constitution stipulates that land below high water is deemed public land and that is why whether it is Lepa or anywhere else, they cannot mine any sand because it belongs to the government.”
Minister Papali’i also took issue with comments by Faumuina that the said project will be a “military wharf” for China.
“[Faumuina] said the project will be a military wharf; see how offensive his comments are, yet the Chinese government has no intention [for such] claims,” said Papalii.
He said such comments would disadvantage everyone.
“The Chinese Ambassador said in correspondence these are groundless allegations,” said Papalii.
Last month Faumuina expressed suspicion about the project, not only because it would displace local villagers who depend upon Vaiusu Bay for a living, but also because it would expand Samoa’s harbour capacity.
“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?” he asked.
“Definitely not for exports and imports hence why I say it must be a military wharf.”
Western intelligence agencies have expressed concern in recent years at the Chinese government's development of “dual use” infrastructure in the Pacific, such as the Vaiusu and Asau wharves as a prelude to establishing a naval foothold.
(Reports China was planning to establish a military presence in Vanuatu in 2018 led to national security concerns in the Australian Government, local media reported at the time. Both Governments denied the matter had been discussed).