SAMOA WORKS MINISTER DENIES ILLEGAL SAND MINING

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Claims wife’s company has proper permit

By Lanuola Tusani Tupufia

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Feb. 22, 2012) - The Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Manualesagalala Enokati Posala has vehemently denied allegations that a brick-making company run by his wife is mining sand from Lotofaga, Safata, illegally.

Manualesagalala told the Sunday Samoan there is nothing illegal about the operations of the company. He said his company has a permit from the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment that allows him to mine the sand.

But not so, according to a letter from Tunu Shum Ama to the Samoa Observer. He accused the Minister of making a considerable amount of money from the "illegal" activity. Tunu also claims that the sand mining "has seriously eroded our village’s natural beauty and landscape."

Sand mining, according to Tunu, has caused the evacuation of families who lived close to the shoreline. Concerns from the villagers are that while the selling of sand is for business purposes, the area is slowly losing its character and the beaches have been polluted.

Ma’aelopa Eli, who lives in Sapunaoa Falealii but is originally from Lotofaga, told the Sunday Samoan that mining the sand has cost the village the beautiful beaches that are no longer there. Ma’aelopa accused the Minister and his company of damaging the environment.

"The Minister has been digging and taking sand since 1996. So we wrote to the environment (MNRE) to deal with the matter but there hadn’t been much that’s been done about it," he said. Ma’aelopa also questioned whether the Minister was legally taking sand and whether he had a permit to do so.

Attempts to get a comment from MNRE Chief Executive Officer, Taule’ale’ausumai Laavasa Malua were unsuccessful.

But a Land Administration and Survey senior staff confirmed that the Minister has a permit and the license was renewed last year.

Asked for a comment, Minister Manualesagalala said he does not see anything wrong with mining the sand. "We have a permit and a business license," he said. "Villagers are allowed to use sand for their family development but we are paying for the loads. Only outsiders are banned from taking it.

"There is nothing illegal about it and there is no conflict between me and the village in regards to utilising sand from the area. We are not digging sand from inside the sea we are only taking what is on the coastline of Lotofaga."

The minister also denied being responsible for the environment problem that is affecting the village saying global warming is affecting everyone.

"A small business like that doesn’t have an impact on environment. The area is open and doesn’t have a reef and that is why the waves come in strongly to the shorelines."

Faga Ai’i Tinei Saseve, who lives on the coastline of Lotofaga, disagrees. She said she is moving inland because she fears that she will soon be washed away by the waves.

"We are preparing to move away from here because I don’t feel safe in my home," she said.

"I believe it’s those who used to mine sand there that is the cause of the damage to our homes." The mother explained that several families who used to live in the area have abandoned their homes. Her family is the only one still living there and they will soon follow the others.

Lotofaga village secretary, Lau Siliga was unhappy with sand miners saying they have destroyed a place they used to call home. Lau stood from the coastline and pointed to about 20 metres out to sea saying the "village used to be there and there were homes built there. "But all of that is gone and people have moved away.

The village used to be there further towards where the sea is and there were roads. But since they kept digging and taking sand, all of that area got washed away." Lau said the village council is now fining and prosecuting those who continue to take sand. Those found guilty will be fined 50 sows, i.e. toga [fine mats] and money.

"In a previous (village) meeting we discussed the issue and decided to heavily fine those who are found breaking the law. There was also discussion with the Minister to stop him from mining the sand," he said.

Lau explained that in the past, the village had an agreement with the Minister for him to make payment for sand that he takes and the money goes towards the village bank account.

He said the minister paid about $1,000 a week for sand loads transported on small trucks.

"But then a law to stop sand from being used was introduced and we also saw that it had an impact on the beaches. Then we came to the conclusion that it needed to stop."

Lau said after consultation with the Minister three weeks ago in a village meeting, the Minister agreed to cease work and will no longer take sand from the area.

Another matai of Lotofaga, Ai’i Safate agreed that the loss of their sand has not only cost them their homes but has also caused erosion of the coastal area.

He was also concerned that if somehow the mining continues, the village will be another victim of natural disasters like the tsunami in 2009.

But Manualesagalala said there was no decision from the village to stop him from taking the sand.

"The decision to fine people who mine the sand is for outsiders but not those who live there," he said. "There are still men that are there taking sand about three times a week for bricks but we haven’t been asked to stop operations."

He explained that about $5,000 goes to the village account annually for the sand they take and also depending on how much they take. Manualesagalala said mining the sand from the area is not in full operation where an excavator is being used to dig it from the sea.

"The men are taking black sand that is on the shoreline not from inside the sea. We only take small loads about three times a week for bricks…it’s not a full operation where it’s done every day. The land is also customary land that belongs to us so we can use it."

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