On Thursday two weeks ago, reporter Ilia L. Likou sent the management of Samoa Airways some very simple questions. Addressed to the Chief Executive Officer, Seiuli Alvin Tuala and Marketing Manager, Dwayne Bentley, Ms. Likou’s email reads:
Trust you’re well. My name is Ilia from the Samoa Observer. I write to ask a couple of questions.
I’ve been told that the airline is paying US$500,000 to lease the aircraft a fortnight.
Is this true? If it is, can the airline sustain this in the long run?
What are your projections in terms of profits and losses?
Also in relation to the Iceland crew, how long will they be here for?
And who is paying for them to be here in terms of accommodation and other allowances to provide training? How much?
From the first few weeks of operations, how have the numbers been in terms of passengers on flights?
Anything else you would like to add?”
In our line of work, we get a lot of information we have to try and verify, especially when it comes to issues that involve public companies run by public monies. These after all are the questions you, our readers, want answers for. It is why we exist.
Now it is no secret that if the information is true about Samoa Airways paying that much money to lease an aircraft every fortnight – on top of all the other operational costs they have to fork out for - you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out it’s going to be a real struggle for the company to stay afloat.
That said, we’re not expecting Samoa Airways to surprise us with a profit right away. If business logic is anything to go by, it will take some time for the airline to make a profit, say two to three years. Hopefully.
Which is why it is important for the airline – and the government for that matter – to be transparent about its operations even if it is struggling along.
You see, as proud Samoans, we all share the common hope that Samoa Airways will work against all odds. Who does not feel a sense of pride jumping up from within at seeing the name “Samoa” as an international carrier again?
But pride is one thing.
Being sensible and realistic about how you go about with your pride is totally another matter.
This is why questions from Ilia L. Likou to Samoa Airways are important.
We all want to know how the Airline is handling these issues and whether they have a plan.
Keep in mind that the last time the government operated an international airline in the form of Polynesian, it threatened to bankrupt this country.
The story has been well told.
Now since the email from Ms. Likou was sent, the silence from the Airline, which had been quite happy to make all the headlines when it was launched last month, has been deafening.
Yes not a single word in response.
Interestingly, even the all-knowing Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi passed the buck.
Two weeks ago when he was asked about the same issue, Tuilaepa said: “To get the exact amount down to the cents, direct your questions to the C.E.O. of Samoa Airways. That shouldn’t be hard to do.”
Well thank you very much for the advice Mr. Prime Minister but we’ve done that.
The C.E.O’s lips appear to be sealed.
Besides, we don’t think the exact amount in question amounts to “cents.” We are talking about $1.3million every fortnight – if the figure is accurate - which will add up over time, it no longer becomes a question about “cents” but rather “millions of tala” from the taxpayers.
At the beginning of the week, when the Samoa Observer followed up on the questions, our reporter was again re-directed to the Prime Minister.
This time, he had left the country for Korea for a meeting.
On page 2 of the newspaper, we see that the Prime Minister is back.Welcome back Sir!
Now will you tell us – or direct the Airline’s management – to reply to Ms. Ilia Likou’s questions for the sake of transparency and accountability his government quite often gloats about?
They are just simple questions that the laui’as running the government shouldn’t lose sleep over in trying to answer.
Unless of course there is a big secret they are trying to hide?