Pacific News Briefs

compiled by Samoa News staff

VIRGIN’S APPLICATION DOES NOT SURPRISE PM TUILAEPA

The intention by Virgin Australia to continue flights to Samoa after its Virgin Samoa joint-venture with the Samoan government concludes in November comes as no great surprise to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi.

Virgin Australia has applied to Australia’s International Air Services Commission (IASC) for 880 seats of capacity a week between Australia and Samoa after the Virgin Samoa Joint Venture concludes.

The airline intends to commence five services per week between Australia and Samoa from Nov. 13, 2017. The flights will be operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft configured with 176 seats.

 “From the start we had made it crystal clear that there is huge potential in our tourism industry to accommodate more flights,” said the Prime Minister.

“And Virgin’s application also reaffirms what we have insisted that they were deliberately scaling down flights to Samoa to increase airfares,” he said.

In his weekly live radio program with Radio 2AP, Tuilaepa recalled that when the Poly-Blue joint venture between Virgin Airlines and Polynesian Airlines was in place, flights between Australia and Samoa were limited to two flights a week.

And since then government have been trying time and again to add more flights but was rejected by Virgin Australia on the grounds that there was not enough demand to justify more. “After crunching the numbers, we had justification for added flights but not according to Virgin Airlines,” recalled the Prime Minister.

“And it’s fair to note that even Air New Zealand is looking at adding more flights to Samoa using their bigger 777 aircraft,” he continued. “To me, it shows that both Virgin and Air New Zealand are scrambling, and it could have a lot to do with our intention to re-launch our national carrier.”

As for Virgin’s application, the Prime Minister indicated that it won’t be easy for the Australians to return, reiterating that Samoa will play a deciding role on Virgin’s application.

“I am waiting to see what they bring to the negotiating table but it would be stupid for Government to say yes again and again,” Tuilaepa concluded.

(Source: M.P.M.C. Press Secretary)

FOREIGN INVESTMENT ACT UP FOR REVIEW

Government will be reviewing the Foreign Investment Act 2000 as a direct result of public concerns that businesses regulated by the Act exclusively for Samoans have been exploited by non-Samoan investors.

Among one of the amendments which will reviewed and amended is the Reserved and Restricted Lists, which identifies the kind of business exclusively for Samoans as mandated by the Act.

Currently businesses off-limits to non-Samoans include bus transport services for the general public; Taxi transport services for the general public; Rental vehicles; Retailing; Saw milling; Traditional elei garment designing and printing; Fishing; Manufacturing; and, Services.

 “But the list could be extended to include other businesses to be regulated exclusively for Samoans,” added the Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, Lautafi Fio Selafi Purcell. For example, “We are also looking at regulating owners of wholesales from the running of retail stores.”

Since the beginning of the year, Government has stopped issuing licenses to foreign investors as it reviews the provisions of the Act and to come up with policies to address the many issues emerging.

And Lautafi says that the issue has been complicated by locals who are in partnership with Asian businesses but are not addressed by the current legislation.

He further said that many locals see opportunities and are quick to lease their buildings and land to Asian owned businesses and these have impacted on locally owned small stores around the country.

On his desk is a MCIL policy paper which contains the pros and cons including the the rapid expansion of the Chinese outside urban Apia, by taking out long term leases on small shops in the outer villages.

But instead of bowing to the wish of the local community he has to tread carefully too. 

“We have to consider also the concerns by the Chinese investors about being discriminated against,” Lautafi cautioned. “We don’t want to appear to be discriminating against foreign investors. After all we wanted foreign investors.”

An added restraint by the Minister is not to scare off other foreign investors, by any unreasonable reaction.

“The government wants to attract foreign investors to provide services and employment but at the same time we don’t want to develop an environment where local business or entrepreneurs just cannot compete.”

Lautafi is determined to give a fair assessment of the complaints by the local business community so as not to be seen to favor any side over the other.

“What have to work out is a fair playing ground for everyone so we can all benefit. We need to consider that our local business community is not likely to fill in any leftover gap, if foreign investors pull out.

 “I’m seriously looking into the issue.

(Source: M.P.M.C. Press Secretary)

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