Report – By Niccola Hazelman-Siona of Samoa Observer
Samoan Minister of Finance, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, has defended his pursuit of funding for a new $NZ 68 million 15-storey building.
His trip to China recently was paid by the company that is likely to be awarded the contract for the project.
In an interview with the Sunday edition of Samoa Observer, the Sunday Samoan, Faumuina said such trips are “necessary sometimes.”
Questioned over the potential conflict of interest in relation to Shanghai Construction Group, Faumuina said the company paying for his trip saved taxpayers money.
“If it is a trip in relation to this construction project, then that is how it is done,” he said.
“I combined two trips to save money. Shanghai [Construction] partly funded the trip, just to China and back. My trip from there on to India was funded by government.”
Faumuina did not say how much the trip to India cost.
But opposition leader, Palusalue Faapo II told the Sunday Samoan the trip was “in contradiction” to instructions given to Cabinet by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.
“A letter was given to Cabinet last year warning the Ministers about so called incentives from overseas companies,” said Palusalue.
“All access pass”
The opposition leader questioned the trip and its funding source.
“What exactly was the point of this trip and why was it funded by Shanghai?” asked Palusalue.
Palusalue said that in taking up the offer by Shanghai Construction Group, Faumuina has “given them an all access pass.”
“Where are the guidelines of the Prime Minister and his government? When you go on an all-expense paid trip funded by a construction company, this means this company will no doubt be the contractors of the building should it be built.”
“Shanghai has guaranteed their place so there will be no tenders and if there are it will be pointless because Shanghai will win the tender.”
The Sunday Samoan was unable get a comment from Shanghai Company Ltd.
In April, Faumuina estimated the building would cost “about $100 million” Samoan tala ($NZ 53 million).
However, by May that figure had risen by nearly a third, to $128 million ($NZ 68 million).
Palusalue expressed his frustration at the building proposal saying that Samoa has “no need” for yet another government building.
“I still believe that there is no point or use for this building, there is no need.”
Palusalue said the trip was a waste of time as “nothing was confirmed.”
“So he went on this trip and so far nothing has been confirmed, there are rumours a contract or agreement was signed but no one knows.”
Minister of Finance, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, disagrees.
“The trip to China was in order to fulfil a decision made by Cabinet to build a 15-storey building for government, a central government building,” he said.
“The Chinese government has said that they will consider our request and let us know what they have decided, so the construction of this building depends on the availability of funds.”
Faumuina could not confirm whether the funding will be in the form of a grant or a loan but he is adamant that funding will come.
“The building of the 15-storey building is the government recognising the need for its employees to work in a good clean environment.
“If government employees work in a happy environment they will be more productive.”
The new building would provide “absolute morale building and motivation.”
But Palusalue said the government should reconsider the need to build as well as be more transparent so the “people are not left in the dark.”
“The Prime Minister cautioned us before on talking to the media without evidence, but they are not transparent.”
“Why they are not transparent is because there are things they do not want people to know about, things that they are hiding from the public.”
“Samoa is a small place and believe me nothing is hidden, so now there are leaks and people are beginning to speak out and it all stems from the government not being transparent.”
Shanghai Construction Group is seen as the probable winner of any tender because it previously won contracts for the six storey $NZ 69 million Tui Atua tower in Apia, and the $NZ 35 million hospital project.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has decided to invite foreign companies to turn the government building at Eleele Fou into a five star hotel.
“Instead of government converting the building to a top hotel, we will invite some of the biggest hotel companies to bid for it and build it themselves,” he told Samoan media recently.
“I’ll be going to Washington DC for the World Bank meeting in October and I’m hoping to meet with representatives of Hilton, Sheraton, Marriot and the other big hotel chains. Holiday Inn which has hotels throughout New Zealand and Australia and across the region is also a favourable option.”