Samoa PM Slams Opposition Comments On Cyclone Aid

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Tuilaepa, Opposition members trade verbal blows in parliament

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 23, 2013) – Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi was not in a mood for what he described as "campaign rhetoric" from Samoa’s Opposition party yesterday.

"In the words of [King] Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun," Tuilaepa reminded. "We can all make campaign speeches. We are all Samoans and we see what is happening."

Tuilaepa was speaking yesterday during the first session of Parliament in 2013. He was responding to claims that many families affected by Cyclone Evan are still waiting for relief assistance.

Made by the Opposition leader, Palusalue Fa’apo II, Parliament was told that these families are living under tarpaulins because they have no money to rebuild their homes.

"We went out on our inspection visits and we talked to these people," said Palusalue. "They have lost everything."

MP for Fa’asaeleaga No. 2, Papali’i Taeu Masepau called on the Prime Minister to prioritise families severely affected by the flooding, especially in areas such as Ma’agao, Lelata and the Vaimauga district.

"Many of these families have nothing left," Papali’i said. "While there are many people who suffered from the cyclone, at least if your house was destroyed by the winds, you can still salvage some things.

"With the flooding, I know of over twenty families in one area who have absolutely nothing left. The flood swept away everything including their luggage and clothes."

Papali’i suggested that the Government should allocate WST$5,000 [US$2,102] to each family so they can begin to piece their lives together.

"Whatever happened in Aleipata, it should also be done at Magiagi," Papali’i said in reference to the rebuilding effort after the deadly tsunami of 2009 where the government funded homes for the victims.

But Tuilaepa immediately took the floor. He said Papali’i’s comments had double meaning. He told Parliament the Government has already provided relief assistance to all the families affected through the provision of items such as water, clothes and food.

For several weeks, Tuilaepa said the Government housed thousands of flooding victims at different emergency centers where they received assistance.

It is up to individual families to find a way to rebuild, the Prime Minister said.

He pointed out that the Samoa Housing Corporation (SHC) exists to provide assistance to families who need it.

As for suggestions to allocate WST$5,000 to each family, Tuilaepa said this was out of the question. He said the total aid collected so far for Cyclone Evan is WST$2.8million [US$1.2 million] and that’s hardly enough to cover the damage.

Tuilaepa said the money has already been allocated to "different projects" in the recovery process. But Palusalue was unimpressed.

"We are talking about people who are suffering so much," he told Parliament. "The government ordered these people out of the emergency shelters so they can go and stay under those tarpaulin. These are so hot and yet…" Tuilaepa interjected, accusing Palusalue and the Opposition of using Cyclone Evan as an election platform.

"These speeches is what I term campaign rhetoric," said Tuilaepa. Anybody can do that."

The Prime Minister said the government found that many people who stayed in the emergency shelters did not want to return to their homes. He said they wanted to continue to enjoy free food, among other privileges.

"We are all in Samoa and we all see what is happening," he said. "We all know that a cyclone does not take roofing iron to the ocean."

Tuilaepa said Evan was not a tsunami, it was a cyclone.

"Evan was tsunami in areas such as Vaimauga," Palusalue fired back. "These people had their homes washed away by the water."

Palusalue denied Tuilaepa’s "campaign rhetoric" claims.

"We are merely telling you the truth," he said. "We saw what these people are going through. They don't have anything."

Tuilaepa refused to back down. He reminded Palusalue that he was once a Cabinet Minister and he would do well to remember that it is so easy for the Opposition party to generate "juicy campaign speeches."

This forced Tautua Party’s deputy Leader, Aeau Peniamina Leavai to take the floor.

"These are not campaign speeches," Aeau said. "These are facts."

The Prime Minister responded that Aeau disappointed him. He reminded Aeau about a man from "your constituency" who approached him when he visited after another cyclone.

"When I flew in on the helicopter, I saw there were a lot of ta’amu that had been felled at Falealupo," Tuilaepa said. "So when we landed, this man approached me and said he was very hungry because there was no food. So I asked me to give me his stomach."

Tuilaepa said when he "knocked on his bellybutton," he heard a lot of "faalifu taamu inside" the man’s stomach.

"So he wasn't really hungry," Tuilaepa said adding that the man was greedy. The Prime Minister said most of the complaints come from people who are greedy.

"Whenever you ask people if they’ve received assistance, they will never give you a yes answer. They will always tell you that they haven’t got enough. We see this everyday."

The Prime Minister told of another old man in an unnamed village.

"When we arrived, we saw this old man sitting under a tarpaulin. So we asked him why he was sitting there and he said he was still waiting for assistance.

"So we asked him to hop into the car. Little did this old man know that we were taking him straight to the house of the pulenu’u. When we got there, I said to the pulenu’u, see this old man, he said he’s received nothing.

"In response, the pulenu’u said ‘did you see that other big house, that’s where all the sacks of rice and everything he’s been given is stored."

Tuilaepa said it is human nature for people to say they haven’t received enough.

MP for Falelatai and Samatau, Taefu Lemi agrees.

"I think people will only be happy if the distribution of aid is carried out by angels."

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