Australian-funded project condemned; MESC ‘smacked right in the middle’ of residential area

Fiji Navy Ordinary Seaman Pio Naisorotabua looks at the site where a new naval headquarters will be built by the Australian Government in Lami. Picture: RAMA.

Plans to build a multi-million dollar maritime service at Naimawi St, Lami, met vocal opposition when representatives of the Australian government and the project contractor arranged a meeting with the residents on Monday night.

Last year, outgoing Australian ambassador John Feakes said his government was funding the construction of a $A40 million ($F61m) to $A60m ($F92m) Maritime Essential Services Centre (MESC) in Lami as part of its “commitment to supporting Fiji’s defence and security infrastructure needs over the long-term”.

Construction is expected to begin this year and Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said more than 445 jobs were expected to be created when the project – which will incorporate the Republic of Fiji Navy headquarters, Suva Radio Coastal Station (Coast Watch), Rescue Coordination Centre and the Fiji Hydrographic Service – is completed in 2024.

During the consultation, residents described the project partnership between both governments as the “Vuvale partnership bulldozing its way through”.

Residents asked why the project could not be relocated to Bilo Battery because the proposed plan would be “smacked right in the middle” of a residential area.

They asked why they were being consulted now when architectural plans for the proposed new site were drawn up two years ago.

They raised questions on issues such as traffic congestion, noise and environmental pollution.

They also asked how ships and boats would be able to differentiate between the lighthouse and the multipurpose facility.

Residents also raised concerns on the safety of their children and grandchildren as majority of them attended the nearby primary school and boarded the bus where the proposed site was located.

They were concerned about the trucks and tractors using the site once construction begin.

They asked representatives of the Australian government about how the Lami community would benefit from the project and whether they had asked land owners for permission before going ahead with the plan.

They also asked if the devaluation of properties would occur since the proposed building would be blocking residential houses.

Questions asked of the Australian representatives and RFMF officer on whether guns would be used by military officers once the building was completed were not answered by the representatives who attended the meeting.

However, in response to emailed questions on Tuesday, the Australian High Commission said the project was a crucial investment and part of Australia’s wider Pacific infrastructure program delivering maritime and land-based facilities within the region, to enhance partner nations’ capabilities and secure their borders.

“The project is expected to generate $F55m in labour and construction revenue for the Fijian community,” the statement from the high commission said.

“In addition to the financial benefits, the project will generate an estimated 445 local jobs; this is anticipated to consist of 292 directly from the construction industry and a further 153 indirectly in other industries.

“On completion of the construction, the enduring maintenance model for the MESC, under the RFMF, may see enduring support options for local companies and the people of Suva.”

When asked why residents were not consulted when architectural plans were drawn up two years ago, the high commission said throughout the design phase of the MESC, Australia has prioritised Fiji’s national requirements, and worked in support of the Fiji Government to ensure community engagement was undertaken and local concerns addressed.

“Fiji’s Ministry for Defence, National Security and Policing (MDNSP) held discussions in 2019 with residential properties .”

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