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Lolo appeals to Togiola, don’t purchase a Manu’a boat

Governor-elect Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appealed to the Togiola Administration to hold back on the purchase of an ASG boat to operate between the Manu’a islands until the Lolo administration takes office next year.

The passenger/cargo boat for the island group was first made public by Gov. Togiola Tulafono several months ago on his weekend radio program, saying that the local Department of Public Works had been able to secure funds from the Federal Transit Administration for such a purchase.

Since then, DPW has been in charge of identifying a proper and suitable vessel, and a task force is in place to survey the boat prior to its purchase. Word has since spread about ASG moving forward with the purchase, prompting Lolo to ask the governor to hold back on such a purchase.

“The most correct thing to do is hold back on this purchase until the new administration comes in to fully review such a purchase,” Lolo told Samoa News yesterday in a brief phone interview. He also said that a copy of the letter he has sent to the governor asking him to “please abate any further action on the purchase” is also being sent to the federal grantor as well as the U.S. Department of Interior.

“I’m afraid there is very little we can do and this is the reason copies of the letter were sent to DOI and the federal grantor,” said Lolo, who believes that the incoming administration should be given the chance to review details of the purchase prior to it being implemented.

In his Nov. 28 letter to the governor, Lolo said it has been brought to his attention that the purchase of a Manu’a boat is in the process and that “this is rather disconcerting given the fact that we are unaware of the specifications for this vessel and its capacity relative to the adequate handling of cargo along with fuel and passenger needs of the Manu’a Islands.”

He pointed out that ASG has “invested so much money” on vessels and an airplane which have not come close to properly accommodating the island group’s transportation needs. Additionally, the MV Sili has been “riddled” with repair problems costing the government more than the original cost of the vessel, while the vessel Fo’isua “only operated for a little while before it was decommissioned.”

“The residents of Manu’a have not been afforded the opportunity to review any information on the vessel that is being purchased,” he wrote.

“I am humbly requesting that you please abate any further action on the purchase of this vessel. The inquiry to determine compliance with the procurement law revealed the contrary, which further exacerbates my concerns,” he said.

Lolo noted that he appreciates the governor’s diligence on taking action to resolve ocean transportation difficulties for Manu’a, but added that no one has any information on the design and capacity of the vessel being purchased.

“It is my preference to design a new vessel for Manu’a from scratch incorporating all of the features that would address the cargo, fuel and passenger needs of Manu’a,” he said. “This scenario might cost more than the vessel that is being purchased, but in the long-run it will pay off, because not only will the vessel last long, but for the first time we will be able to obtain a vessel that addresses the needs and not continue the past practice of attempting to let the vessel dictate the needs of the Manu’a residents.”

Lolo appealed to the governor to allow his incoming administration to implement its plans to address the needs of Manu’a and “not be forced to live by the conditions that you will establish with the purchase of the vessel.”

“I don’t think this appeal is unreasonable,” he concluded.

Copies of the letter are also being sent to Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and the DPW director.

Samoa News asked the Governor’s Representative on Fishing and Marine Issues, Carlos Sanchez about the purchase of the boat and did he know about the trip to purchase it.

He said he had been invited on the trip, as part of the task force for the purchase and was also asked for his input on the purchase.

Sanchez said he recommended that to save money, ASG needs to get the run down from US Coast Guard about the boats they were planning to look at — their corresponding certifications, etc. — the USCG has all of this information on every boat.

He said this is especially important because they (the government) did not do this with the MV Foisia or with the tugboat, the Sailele they bought in Honolulu through Marisco Ltd., a shipyard company.

“I also told them that ASG can get surveyors in all of those areas (where the boats are) to get independent surveys before anyone travels to see the boats (to save money). But, what they wanted to do is to hire a surveyor in Honolulu and take the surveyor everywhere with them — and they say that the government has no money?”

Sanchez said he now understands Capt. Wallace Thompson will be the surveyor for the boats, and “they are going to see 7 boats… that these were boats lined up by the governor's office and that the governor's office reviewed it already several months ago.”

The Task Force according to Sanchez, comprises Capt. Wallace Thompson, his engineer and Deputy Director of Public Works, Faleosina Voight. Samoa News understands they are slated to leave tonight.

Sanchez said, “my thinking is that usually, if you are going to spend that much money, you spend at least $5,000 to put the boat up and check to make sure that the boat is okay. On top of that, you don’t send the same guy that you sent in the last assignment to do this especially when he's suing the government and came with a bunch of excuses — excusing himself from the last job.”

The governor’s rep is referring to the Marisco shipyard fiasco, which is currently in federal court and centers around monies the company says is owed by ASG. Capt. Thompson was a member of the task force that reviewed and managed the purchase and repairs of the tugboat and barges through Marisco that eventually was the subject of Fono hearings when Marisco sued ASG for monies owed and won when the case went to arbitration.

The tugboat and barges project was funded with an initial allocation of $3 million in loan money from the Retirement Fund, but a report from the ASG Budget Office stated that this project has an overage of $1.45 million, with the more than $800,000 in unpaid ASG invoices to Marisco Ltd.

“Lastly,” Sanchez said, “in my own opinion — the timing is just not right. How can you buy a boat in less than a month without the proper surveys, reports or being seen by anyone here yet? To see 7 boats properly, you have to spend at least 3 - 4 full days per boat — if you are going to see them completely. Otherwise, you are not looking at them, your are just looking at the paint job.”

Sanchez said he was not told of the date of the trip so he surmises they did not like his recommendations and he would not be going.