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Marketplace restaurant closed down over rent dispute

Owner says government owes him money, not the other way around
joy@samoanews.com

The Department of Commerce has closed down Olive Restaurant at the Market place due to non-payment of rent for over three years, says Market Manager Limutau FC Limutau, responding to Samoa News queries. On the other hand, the owner of the restaurant, local businessman Mr. Ajk “Bill” Byo, says the government owes him thousands of dollars for repairs to the premises, which is why he has not been paying the lease.
 
Neither party, ASG nor Mr. Byo, mentioned that they have an agreement in place for such an offset — lease payment to cost of repairs of premises.
 
Samoa News also notes that the government and Mr. Byo are identifying a different dollar amount due for the monthly lease payment.
 
Witnesses told Samoa News that when DOC closed down the restaurant last Friday, the market was packed with people.
 
DOC Director Keniseli Lafaele, who declined to respond to questions on this matter, said this issue is with the Attorneys, but did not specify if it was DOC Attorney Cecilia Reyna or the Attorney General’s Office handling the matter. “I’ll take your questions under consideration,” stated Lafaele.
 
However, Limutau did respond to our questions.
 
The Market Manager told Samoa News that the restaurant was closed upon instructions from the DOC Director, who had noted Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga had already approved this.
 
Limutau said that it was his understanding the Olive Restaurant “to date, since the Togiola and Faoa Administration, no payment has ever been made to ASG for the lease and even with the new administration — same issue."
 
He said, “The monthly lease to Olive Restaurant is $1,100, yet since they occupied the space they have yet to pay this lease to the Market.”
 
Limutau could not specify the exact amount the Olive Restaurant owes the government for the lease, nor the length of the lease.
 
However, he did note that “this specific lease has been under the microscope of the current administration since they took office, even when I was named Market Manager, this issue was already being discussed, yet the restaurant does not seem to cooperate with any negotiations made in this matter.”
 
Samoa News asked if the restaurant received written or verbal warnings prior to DOC closing it down. Limutau explained that there was a 30-Day notice given to the restaurant however, after the 30 days were up, there was still no payment, nor any reply from restaurant management.
 
The notice to the restaurant came from the DOC Attorney, according to the Market manager.
 
Samoa News contacted Mr. Byo, who also owns Family Mart, and he vehemently denies owing any money to the government, instead the businessman says the “government owes” him more than $100,000.
 
Mr. Byo stated the money owed to him was spent on renovating or repairing the restaurant, because there were areas in the restaurant that needed repairs, yet the previous administrations refused to fix the damages. He said these repairs included installing new air conditioners, lights, water pipes and other installments in the kitchen.
 
The local businessman further noted that it was the former DOC Director Faleseu Eliu Paopao (who has since passed away) that he dealt with during the major renovations or repairs to the restaurant space.
 
According to Mr. Byo, his monthly rent is $1,488 and the government claims that his restaurant owes close to $50,000, and he will fight that it’s the government that owes him money — not the other way around.
 
(Samoa News estimates the amount owed for over a period of 3 years or 36 months is $39,600, or $53,568 — depending whose monthly lease amount is used.)
 
Mr. Byo claims he was “never” served with any written notices from DOC and was “surprised” that DOC closed his restaurant down.
 



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