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APIA, Samoa (July 4, 1999 - PACNEWS)--- Samoa Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi last week marked the start of construction of the new South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) headquarters at Vailima, outside Apia, by turning over the first spadeful of soil.

"It has taken longer than originally anticipated to reach this stage in realizing the SPREP headquarters project," he said.

The Prime Minister noted that the Samoan Government, recognizing the crucial role of SPREP in the Pacific region’s efforts to address environment issues, offered to become the permanent host of SPREP in 1991. At that time a decision was made to separate the program from the South Pacific Commission (now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community).

"SPREP came to Samoa less than a month after the devastation of Cyclone Val and immediately occupied temporary offices provided by the Government of Samoa," he said.

"SPREP not only arrived in the wake of our worst environmental disaster but was literally placed in a major hub of the subsequent relief and rehabilitation response. We have always regretted that it was neither an auspicious welcome not a comfortable time for SPREP."

The Prime Minister said SPREP had grown into a highly skilled and competent organization consisting of 60 staff.

"In my mind the construction of office accommodations custom-built to the needs of SPREP to efficiently serve the region is long overdue," he said.

SPREP Director Dr. Tamari’i Tutangata expressed appreciation to SPREP’s Member Governments, especially the Governments of Australia, France, Papua New Guinea and the United States, which had already contributed or undertaken to fund the center.

He also thanked China for making a US$ 100,000 donation to the project.

SPREP supports member Governments to safeguard, enhance and develop the Pacific environment and addresses issues such as climate change, bio-diversity and pollution prevention.

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