Pacific Scoop

Samoan tsunami relief chief rejects NZ politician’s ‘truckloads’ aid sale claim

Taulealeausumai explains tsunami relief delivery procedures at DMO headquarters Tuanaimato. Photo: Savali

Taulealeausumai explains tsunami relief delivery procedures at DMO headquarters at Tuanaimato. Photo: Savali

By Tupuola Terry Tavita in Apia

Samoa’s disaster management chief has defended the tsunami relief operation and rejected claims by a New Zealand local politician.

There is no way that “truckloads full off goods” can be diverted and sold at shops as alleged by Porirua deputy mayor Litea Ah Hoi, says Disaster Management Office chief executive Taulealeausumai Mailo Laavasa Malua.

During a visit to DMO headquarters at Tuanaimato, Taulealeausumai showed the control procedures in accounting for goods stored at the compound and how the office keeps track of goods distributed to affected families at all hours.

Litea Ah Hoi ... claimed aid was not reaching many Samoans. Photo: Mana Foundation

Litea Ah Hoi ... she claims aid is not reaching many Samoans. Photo: Mana Foundation

Ah Hoi claimed some people were not getting Samoan government-supplied aid on a regular basis after visiting tsunami-hit villages.

But the DMO demonstration showed that all goods that come into the compound are recorded by Treasury officials who have a desk at the entrance.

All money handed over to the DMO office is also receipted by Treasury and goes through a system of controls, checks and balances – as is the case in treasuries in New Zealand, Australia or the United States.

Audit process
Any container cannot be opened, nor items removed or loaded onto delivery vans and trucks without the presence of customs officials, DMO officials and police officers.

Every delivery, every item and every good that departs the compound is again recorded by Treasury officials. Every delivery is accompanied by an audit officer and a policeman. There are also onsite officials at the affected areas who double check these deliveries.

Every family that receives goods has to sign for what they have received. A few days later, a team of audit and DMO officers follow up on the deliveries visiting recipient families if indeed they received the goods they signed up to.

“The system is working very well and every item, every delivery has been accounted for,” said Taulealeausumai.

“ There have not been any irregularities. Because it goes through a number of control measures there is very minimal chance an item, least a whole delivery, cannot be accounted for.”

“There are many stories making the rounds out there,” said Taulealeausumai.

“But if you scratch through the surface then you’ll find a completely different one.

‘Only natural’
“I don’t want to accuse our people of telling untruths as Lord knows they’ve suffered enough, but in any situation, anywhere in the world, some people will take advantage of it to their benefit.”

It was only natural that some would deny receiving any aid so they could get more aid, he said.

“Some of those who have complained of not getting anything, upon double checking with our records, indicate that they’ve been getting aid regularly. Upon questioning, they’d come up with another excuse.”

Taulealeausumai also asked if Ah Hoi could produce any evidence that “truckloads full of good” are being sold at shops.

“We really want to know because the law is very clear. Anybody found to be doing that will immediately be arrested and charged by police. We’d go out of our way to nab somebody doing that.”

Residents of affected areas that had moved elsewhere in the country, Taulealeausumai said, were urged to go to their village to get their aid provisions.

“We do not want a situation where victims are farmed out to families in Apia so their provisions could be distributed to their relatives not affected by the tsunami. That has already happened. There are dubious ways to get around the system and we want to plug those loopholes.”

‘Wild stories’
DMO officials are puzzled that despite “wild stories” running around out there, no local media has ever bothered to come to see for themselves if such an incident was possible.

‘We are more than happy to explain to them our procedures,” said Taulealea.

“In fact they are nothing new as the mobilisation of government agencies in the event of a national disaster are clearly spelled out in the National Disaster Management Plan.”

While Savali was there, TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika was also there to interview Taulealeausumai while doing a piece on Samoa’s recovery efforts.

“If you see our local media around, tell them our door is always open to them.”

The New Zealand government has pledged $7 million in aid and has been giving the bulk of it to agencies to distribute, including the Red Cross.

Tupuola Terry Tavita is editor of the Samoan government newspaper Savali.