Minister says the Ti’avea airport can be stopped if it gets too expensive

The Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang

By Rula Su’a – Vaai

APIA, SAMOA – MONDAY 08 OCTOBER 2018: The Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, says it is best to put a stop to the construction of the Tiavea airport if it gets too expensive.

Papali’i was responding to claims by Ti’avea village chiefs to be compensated with a reported sum of more than $5 million talā for the 23 acres of village lands required for the airstrip.

“I was told the village chiefs want to double the offer the Airport Authority initially offered for the project,” Papali’i told Talamua.

“My own opinion is if they want it doubled, it is better to stop it. Why does it when it is expensive for the government?” he explained.

“The government’s aim is that the project will provide employment opportunities for the village, it will create businesses in the area and when it does, the village will benefit from it.”

The Ti’avea village mayor, Seiuli Sola told Talamua that the government’s offer is $30 tala per sq. meter. But the village has doubled it to $60 tala per sq.meter for the 23 acres of village land. They also want to improve the road, water supply and give the villagers first preference for job opportunities the project may generate.

“Negotiations are still continuing on a satisfactory price,” said the Minister.

Conflict of interest downplayed
The project has raised concerns over a conflict of interest when the winning contract for the project went to the company the Associate Minister to the Prime Minister holds 50% shares.

But Papali’i defended the Governments’ decision and played down the conflict of interest issue.

“Conflict of interest is a minor issue, what we look into is the cost, whether it meets the government’s budget, then we look at technical requirements and resources, we do not look at conflict of interest,” said Papali’i.

“If we do that, then all contracts will be awarded to overseas companies, then what happens, I believe it is very harsh and racist if we look at it that way, after all  Samoans are all related.”

Papali’i also made reference to the company who won the contract to build the new prison at Tanumalala. The owner of the construction company is the brother of the Minister of Prisons and Corrections Services who is also the Minster of Revenue.

“That project, we even sought the advice from the Attorney General and he said there is nothing wrong with it.”

In 2013, the tender for the construction of the current Produce Market at Savalalo was readvertised when some of the tenders were found to be from companies owned by MPs who were in the Tenders Board at the time.