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PM hails economic benefits of direct flights from China & terminates company responsible

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 20 JUNE 2023: In a Ministerial Statement in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa acknowledged the positive economic impact of the two direct chartered flights on the country and tourism sector.

But given the negative reaction from the Samoa Tourism Authority, the tourism sector, the inter-island travelling public and a seeming business connection to a government minister, she said it was no longer proper for Travel Focus, the company behind the direct flights to continue being an agent to promote Samoa tourism in Hong Kong, China and Asia.

But she said that Travel Focus can continue its business activity as being in the forefront of the charted direct flights from China to Samoa.

The Prime Minister noted as important that the direct charter flights from China to Samoa was a new concept and development for the Samoan tourism sector.

“I can say it is a good development to grow Samoa’s economy,” she stated.

“Government accepts and welcomes (this development) in general terms as there are many benefits to the economy and that we do not want to stop initiatives for new businesses in the country,” said the Prime Minister.

The company behind the chartered flights, Travel Focus is based in Hong Kong and the Prime Minister said it was appointed an agent to promote Samoa tourism in Hong Kong, China and Asia in January this year to await the appointment of a new agent.

Quoting the company’s media release that referred to its promotional work over the years without Samoan governments funding and being a private business, Fiame said there are elements that connects to government through various services.

While the company said there would be weekly flights, its flights were however stopped due to a legal condition that allows only two chartered flights within 28 days.

Fiame said it seemed the Company was not aware of the legal requirement and resulted in an application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a diplomatic clearance of the aircraft to come and take returning passengers on the second flight.

The PM also stated that the Samoa Tourism Authority also advised Travel Focus to postpone the flights over concerns that the major hotels in Samoa were not ready but the company proceeded with the flights.

“The STA and Governments concerns were for any reputational damage should there be issues with the hosting of these tourists.”

The other of the Prime Minister’s concern was the connection between the Minister of Agriculture and Travel Focus and the local Samoa Royal Tours operators owned by the Ministers children and the Minister has already explained the business belongs to his children.

The Prime Minister said that MPs owning businesses is not new and the proper protocol was for those businesses be relinquished to their families and children to operate.

“I have no intention to stop businesses that have been developed over the years and have been passed on to the children to operate given the potential conflict of government positions. This is normal,” said Fiame.

The Prime Minister stated that much has been said, written and reported about the charter flights.

She pointed to the concerns raised by the public such as concerns by the private tourism sector over the hosting of the tourists by a private company; public criticisms when the ferry was delayed while waiting for the tourists to arrive; holding off flights due to legal conditions; two Cabinet Ministers offering public apologies and public criticisms directed at those holding government offices.

The Prime Minister said that the objective of her Ministerial Statement is in line with the principles of good governance and transparency which she said are among the five pillars of the FAST Party’s manifesto.

She also emphasized that her statement is premised on the fibre of Samoan culture where issues of critical importance within the families, villages, associations and government are discussed in the open which had been part of Samoan culture well before the principles of transparency and good governance.

Then she added her own apologies to the public saying all faults in the government administration and the delivery of service to the public, rest on the government.

The Ministerial Statement has been tabled in parliament for debate on a future date.