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NZ Tongans suspicious at sale of Forum Line to Samoa
2:57 pm GMT+12, 09/10/2012, New Zealand

Tongans living in New Zealand are concerned about the sale of the Pacific Forum shipping line to Samoa.

The regional shipping line has been bought by Samoa from the 10 other Pacific nations which jointly owned it.
It's been making multi-million dollar losses recently, and purchases space on other companies vessels, as it owns no ships of its own.

Melino Maka, chair of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council, tells Bruce Hill the sale was swift, secretive and rather suspicious.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Melino Maka, chair of the New Zealand Tongan Advisory Council

MAKA: When we look at shipping lines in the way it was set up. It was set up for the reason it's also incredibly important for the region in terms of trade and if we're talking about economic development, this is a very strategic asset for the Pacific in regard of economic development. So we see that as vital and the way it's been handled, the way that the sales been handled is very secret and we were quite upset about this, because we say if we going to sell a strategic asset like that. I think that it's not a wise move from a Tongan perspective.

HILL: Well, it was at one stage going to be sold to Sofrana, a Singapore company, so the fact that Samoa has bought it, is that less of a problem? At least still owned by a Pacific Island country?

MAKA: It's sort of going to bring back memories of the Air Pacific, that this is the same scenario of how Air Pacific was set up. It end up in the hand of Fijian, become a Fijian National Airline. We don't mind the way Samoa end up with it, but I think it's very important that this service should be in the hands of the regional as a whole. Because like the exodus, like something of a family and you can't allow one member of the family to takeover and control it and the other will be dictate by the one who is having it.

HILL: Well, all the other members of the family have agreed and sold their shares to Samoa. So the other countries in the Pacific would obviously disagree with you. They've made this decision?

MAKA: I think that some of the information that we picked up that in regard to Tonga. Tonga was forced to sell it to Samoa, because of the way the MOU was structured when it was set up, because if you look at the way Sofrana like the offer and prompt Samoa to acquire the other 92% of the share. And I think that this is a very important asset for the region and should be kept at all costs. And if Samoa can make it widely. It should be set up in a way that is actually beneficial for all the region.

HILL: How much of a real affect do you think that this sale might have on things like rates for shipping? I know that a lot of Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand and also in Australia ship a lot of goods back home to the Pacific Island countries, but the Pacific Forum Line actually has no ships and has been running at a 40 million dollar loss. So really what practical affect would the sale actually have on shipping in the Pacific?

MAKA: I think it will, because at the end of the day, if there's no real competition, at the end of the day, whoever's going to run this vital service in the Pacific will end up dictate the price.

HILL: But how vital is it, it has no ships. How can you run a shipping line that doesn't have a ship?

MAKA: The reason why they didn't have a ship, because most of the country, the shareholder is mainly just worry about getting dividend, rather than actually invest on this important and strategic service for the Pacific. So you can argue on both ways, but from our own perspective, I think it's very, very important for the Pacific to have a service if we are going to improve some of the small island states economy.

HILL: Do you not think that the Samoans could perhaps run it quite effectively for the whole region?

MAKA: Oh, Samoa will run it effectively for Samoa.


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