7 Jun 2013

Chinese investor demands spark angst in Samoa

5:14 pm on 7 June 2013

Conditions outlined by a Chinese company considering investing in Samoa have been met with alarm.

In a document, the company outlines 16 conditions, which includes land-leasing for certain projects for a period of 160 years.

It also wants the government to issue an exclusive permit to manage a gambling business and admit 30,000 Chinese workers to Samoa, which has a population of just under 200,000.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:

A large delegation from the Beijing Zhao Yi Li Investment Management Company went to Savai'i Island recently to look at potential sites for its businesses. Lagi Keresoma, a journalist at Talamua On-line, got hold of a document from the company, which lists the conditions it wants the government to meet before it invests in the country. She says she approached members of the group at the official Samoa Independence celebrations last week to ask them more about their plans, but the interview was cut short.

"LAGI KERESOMA: So I spoke to a few of them, that was until one of the Chinese guys that spoke very good English stepped up and stopped the interview. Certainly they didn't want it because the thing hadn't been to the prime minister. They wanted to see the prime minister first before this whole thing came up."

Lagi Keresoma says the prime minister hasn't received the document yet, which also states that land for an airport, hospital, school, and nursery should be provided by the government free of charge. The opposition leader, Palusalue Faapo II, says the company is asking for too many favours and exemptions and is particularly concerned that it wants the government to admit 30,000 Chinese workers in Samoa for no less than three years. He says the Samoan workforce, which continues to suffer from high unemployment, should be given priority.

LAGI KERESOMA: Which is very unusual for them requesting to bring in 30,000 employees while these jobs can be done by the Samoan people, especially in terms of labouring in the building of these projects. So I think that's the first issue that should be rejected by the government.

The CEO of the Ministry of Labour, Auelua Enari, hasn't seen the proposal but says Samoa welcomes foreign investments into the country which are expected to be good for the economy. He says investors have a right to ask for what they want and says the government would likely enter negotiations and discuss what the country can offer under its current laws. The Samoa economy is heavily dependent upon tourism and the President of the Samoa Hotels Association, Tuala Oli Ah Him, says it is up to the government to respond to those demands. But he says investment is crucial to Samoa, particularly on Savai'i.

TUALA OLI AH HIM: In Savai'i there's plenty of land, so much property - it's just bushland, not being utilised. Better make use of it, because in another 100 years it will still be lying there idle doing nothing so might as well make use of it.

The story has sparked a lot of angst in Samoa and an online petition calling on the government to cease all talks with the Chinese company was set up the same day the article first appeared.