Tuvalu News


Prime Minister Toafa speaks at press conference
Wednesday: June 8, 2005

Transcription of press conference with Tuvaluan Prime Minister, Maatia Toafa

As Prime Minister, what would you like to see from FEMM 2005?

PM: Depending on the outcome of the FEMM, I believe most of the issues discussed will also be reflected in the Pacific Plan. For Tuvaluís economy I would like to see the setting up of a regional financial mechanism to help the respective member countries. Not only for their annual budgetary requirements but other important development requirements. In Tuvaluís case, we lack the basic infrastructure. We are well behind compared to Tonga, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu. I believe that the only way to develop the economy is to facilitate the development of the private sector and we cannot do that without the basic infrastructure in place.

Remittances from the seafarers

PM: Seafaring is the only industry that is doing Tuvalu a lot of good and benefits. We have a maritime training institute located on an island to the north of the main settlement. What we have been able to do is get our seafarers graded under the SCCW 95, which is an IMO convention, a requirement for all international seafarers. Our seafarers have been given recognition and listed under what they term as Ďwhite listí, meaning that the capabilities of our seafarers are up to international standards. We want to maintain that because this is the only industry that is brining us economic benefits. The good thing about this is that it not going to the pockets of the government, itís going straight to the people themselves. The government has nothing to do with that. We are not taxing these revenue. ADB recently provided us with a loan of US$4 million to upgrade the school to improve its standards to ensure that our seafarers are properly rated under IMO SCCW 95. We donít want to be rated as second-class seafarers but we would rather go world class and that is very important for the industry.

How many seafarers are working overseas?

PM: Well over 800 seafarers. About half of them are working abroad right now, while the other half are on vacation in Tuvalu Ė spending time with their families.

Is the government concerned with the high number of HIV / AIDS infection amongst the seafarer community?

PM: The most affected are our seafarers. You know the population which has the most infection are the seafarers and I believe that government under its HIV / AIDS programme has been conducting a lot of workshops jointly with TOSU-Tuvalu Overseas Seamen Union to educate seafarers. This is done especially for new graduates to educate them about life at sea. Government is also trying to put in place mechanisms where by seafarers are not left isolated on the ships. This is why we are supporting the project to get seafarers hooked on to the Internet so that spouses of the seafarers can make regular contact. Online is more convenient and cheaper rather than phoning or writing letters.

Solomonís Islands is hoping to host next years FEMM, where is Tuvaluís vote going to go?

PM: I have to discuss that with the finance minister. That depends on how strong the lobbying is from the Solomon Islands finance Minister.

How much is it costing the Tuvalu Government to host this meeting?

PM: I think it is around AUD$30,000. Initially we had budgeted AUD$10,000 but when the final programme was drawn up with needed an extra AUD$20,000.

Later this month the International Whaling Commission is meeting in South Korea, which Tuvalu is a member. There have been a lot of speculations as to whether or not you will support Japan.

PM: I think Tuvalu became a member last year. We attended the meeting in Italy. Our good friends and neighbours Australia and New Zealand interpret Tuvaluís position as supporting commercial whaling or pro whaling. The position is that we support the harvesting of marine resources, of course, including whales, but at a sustainable level. It is unfortunate that both Australia and New Zealand interpret that as pro-whaling. I respect their interpretation but I ask them to allow Tuvalu to make its own decision without putting pressure on us. I believe that sustainable harvesting of all marine resources or any other resources for that matter that has been given by the heaven god.

The .tv domain issue

PM: We are receiving fees for that to the level of US$2.2 million dollars a year. That is the contract now. Also in the contract we again are able to receive another 5-percent of the total sale of the domain name when it is over 20-million a year. The total revenue right now is 13 to 15 million a year.

Air service provided by Air Fiji

PM: The air service provided right now is unsatisfactory because of too many breakdowns especially the Brasilia. I believe there is a lot of room for improvement. Reliability is very important. Another factor is the cost of travel, which right now is very expensive. I believe the air service to Tuvalu is very important because it is very critical for our travel to the outside world, especially for our seafarers. If the planes are not flying, then some of our seafarers will miss their contracts overseas. As I am told that if Tuvaluans miss their flights, then the company recruits people from the Philippines, our competitor.

Has Tuvalu seen any returns from its investment in Air Fiji?

PM: We havenít received any financial dividends yet. I think the management is doing quite well. The audited accounts for the LAST fiscal year showed that made a profit of over 1-million. I am sure that we are not expecting dividend payout because we have to pay off the accumulated losses from previous yearsí. We also need to re-capitalize the operation to make sure that it has enough or better services and lower fares, which I believe is more important than getting a dividend. Right now Tuvalu has 28-percent in shares in Air Fiji and 28 percent in our partner, Aviation Investment Limited (AIL). We hold a 50-50 share equity in AIL. With that we bought shares in Air Fiji - so the total is 56-percent.

Air Pacific recently announced its intentions of providing domestic services and also having more regional routes added. One of the options that they are looking at is buying shares in a local airline like Air Fiji. What is Tuvaluís view on this?

PM: If that would eventuate, I think we need to re-negotiate with Air Pacific about our shares. I hope a time will come when the Air Fiji shares will increase. We can only pray that Air Pacificís move will be at the right time because the value of the Air Fiji share right now is FJD$0.70 but if it will increase to FJD$2.00, I think that will be the right time for us to negotiate with Air Pacific.

I believe that it a very good move by Air Pacific. I believe that this is the concept that QANTAS follows Ė ownership of the domestic market. -Pacnews


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