[Samoa Observer] Paramount chief issues caution
The owner of the one of the most popular resorts in Samoa, Tuagataloa Joe Annandale – who is the paramount chief of Poutasi – has expressed concerns about the size the proposed casino to be built in Mulivai Safata.
During an interview with the Weekend Observer where a range of issues were discussed, Tuatagaloa, Owner of Sinalei Reef Resort,says he is worried about the impact of such a project on the rural community.
While he is excited about the prospect of job creation, Tuatagaloa hopes the Government has weighed the social cost of having a casino against the benefits.
“Based on what the experience has been elsewhere, it’s been a dismal failure,” says Tuatagaloa. “As far as I know in Vanuatu, it’s a failure in terms of support for it. I’m talking about the lack of visitors from overseas, tourists.”
In Samoa, Tuatagaloa says much as been said about the social impact of the casinos.
“The thing I suppose that concerns me is the size of the sort of properties that are being talked about.”
Tuatagaloa believes a resort of such size, catering to tourism on such a large scale, is something that Samoa should not be associated with.
“I’ve never been an advocate of large hotels as such in Samoa. Anything more than 150 – 200 rooms in a rural setting like this; would be a bit of a concern.In my view, Samoa is not about mass tourism and a 500-room resort is mass tourism.”
Instead of building a 500-room resort with a casino as an added attraction, Tuatagaloa thinks locals should look into developing small-scale, tourist accommodation facilities.
“Since building Sinalei, I’m sold on the idea of having small boutique properties, 30 rooms, 40 rooms, 50 rooms max, perhaps that take up these little spots because we don’t have the big massive beach areas that others countries have.
“We have these little pockets of beachfront areas like Tafatafa and further along this south coast, it is well-suited to small properties. If we had a lot of those, it would be wonderful.
“Each of these little properties would have its own personality, its own soul, its own character and what I think is good about these small properties, is that they’re small enough to be developed by local people and that, I think, should be encouraged.”
The success of Sinalei over the years proves the point.
“It’s affordable, it can be financed locally, local management, local employees, everything and then we have sympathetic airlines that would bring your business in but we have neither at the moment.”
Tuatagaloa acknowledges the Government’s drive to create jobs. But the 500 acre property proposed by Chinese-owned ETG group raises some critical issues.
“Employment is very important.That isthe concern or the responsibility that any government has to provide opportunities for, provide the infrastructure for employment to take place or activities to take place that would employ our peopleand there’s nothing wrong with that.”
However, Tuatagaloa says there is a need to “develop agriculture” in the rural areas. If a 500-room resort is to employ a large percentage of the village population, there will be no one to tend to the farming and agricultural needs of the villages.
“I think that everything has to be balanced because you do have the need to encourage agricultural development in rural areas to cater to the rest of the country and to cater to the hotel industry, no question.
“To have too many people within the village engaged or employed in say one large property, needs to be carefully considered. Consider the impact that that would have on that particular community or the villages that are close to it?”
Speaking from experience, Tuatagaloa has no doubt that the tourism-based businesses in the rural areas are helpful to the communities.
Butthere is always the other side of the coin.
“Having built a resort here and seeing the impact that it has had on our young people, just some, not all I suppose, does pose a bit of a worry for me.
“Unquestionably, you know having Coconuts and Sinalei here in Siumu and Mulivai has been very, very good for these villages. These villages have enjoyed the benefits from these two properties in this area, no doubt.”
The benefits, however, are well balanced with the size of the village and the community that supports it.
“While we’re the major employers in a formal sense in these small communities, we’re still very small,” says Tuatagaloa. “It’s not an overwhelming situation where the majority of young people are employed here and therefore is hasn’t impacted too much on the lives of the families and people.
“We are not a dominating or domineering type of employer; it’s not that sort of a situation.
“There is still a lot of agricultural activity in these communities but the fact is that the monies we have been able to put in, has really helped them in developing little businesses and I believe, improved their standards of living.
“If we had a situation where the majority of young people were engaged in this industry and therefore neglecting farming and agricultural activities, then I believe there would be some shifts and changes.”
As for the impact of gambling on the village community, Tuatagaloa is not worried.
“I think the community here will be fairly well buffered from that because there will be restrictions. Even opening on Sundays is not an issue as far as I am concerned.”
Having said all that Tuatagaloa is still unclear as to the logic behind the government’s move to allow casinos to be built in Samoa.
“I don’t fully understand the logic in introducing casinos. Gambling is already here we all know, in different forms but casinos as such, I still don’t understand the logic because what is being promoted by government, is that it will attract more tourists.
“Why? I don’t understand the logic why? This Chinese company that is saying they will build a 500-room resort and then bring planeloads of people from China or wherever else.
“Why would people fly many, many hours over some of the biggest land masses and it would be closer to fly from China to Las Vegas and then you have Macau, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, all those places these planes will fly over? These destinations are well known gambling havens, why would they come all this way? Why?
“It doesn’t make sense to me because it will cost them a lot more but what is it that Samoa gambling casinos would offer that is very special?”
However to be “fair” to the government and all those in favour of casinos,Tuatagaloa says he has never really “sat down and asked questions or had any sort of discussions where I could be convinced of the logic and the good rationale behind the concept.”
According to Tuatagaloa the unfavourable impacts that casinos will have on Samoa is the big price to pay for an ‘added attraction’ as mentioned by the government.
“Sure it’s an added service or an added attraction but is it that attractive that one has to have it?”
“Given that those who know more about gambling than I do say that there are other things that follow like prostitution, money laundering and all these other vices, do we needthem?”
Feedback from tourists about the prospect of casinos has been negative, he says. Having spoken to some of the guests at his establishment, Tuatagaloa says he was a bit “taken aback” when guests asked him about the casino concept in Samoa.
“A lot of tourists have read and found out about the casino concept in Samoa and they have said, “What are you people trying to do here?
“Samoa has so much going for it, it’s so beautiful. It’s got its culture that is still vibrant and very much alive, there so much more in Samoa, why introduce gambling?”
Coming to Samoa for a holiday, according to Tuatagaloa, is about people wanting to get away from their normal everyday lives and experience something they are not accustomed to.
“If tourists were to come here to have a holiday, it’s about a holiday; sunning themselves on the beach or going game fishing which are the things they dream about when they come to the tropics, not gambling because it is available anywhere else in the world so why would they come here to go gambling?
“People go on holiday for different reasons. The reason they come to Samoa is because we promote our culture, our climate, the serenity, but not gambling.”
All in all Tuatagaloasays that he has “no real problem” with casinos provided that “it is going to be well buffered from the rest of the community.”
On the other handthere is food for thought and the intriguing issue of the casino legislation, “One of God’s greatest gifts to mankind is the freedom of choice and we can’t dispute that. Talking of choices, the restrictions on locals being able to gamble, is an issue.
“It’s almost as if the government is saying there is everything good about this but we don’t want the locals to play so what does this suggest?
“To me, that is a contradiction. On the one hand, you’re saying it’s good for the country, everything good, but the locals can’t participate in this and that’s discriminatory really.
“I was wondering if there was some courageous person our there to take it on, on the grounds that it is discriminatory?
“That it’s because you’re a Samoan without a foreign passport and don’t live in a hotel that you are not allowed to enter and play in these casinos?
“I often wondered whether that would hold up in a court of law if someone were to challenge the legislation on the casinos.”