Official opening of the extension to the Environment Department-funded by Ridge to Reef project

Despite the many challenges and with a bit of creative thinking needed to extend the office space at the Environment Department, the team of the Ministry of Natural Resources came together in the culmination of years of work last week to celebrate the official opening of the extension.

The honour of cutting the kapihi garland with the katoua (traditional club) was shared between the Minister of Natural Resources Hon. Esa Mona Ainuu and the Minister of Social Services Hon. Sauni Tongatule, the former Director of Environment who was involved in the initial stages of the project.

The completion of the extension is one of the last major local projects supported by the Ridge to Reef project.

The Director-General of the Ministry of Natural Resources Dr. Josie Tamate, in her address at the opening, explained the initial plans to extend the department space was part of the Ridge to Reef (R2R) project to provide space for the project’s implementation unit back in Aril 2016 when the R2R project commenced. It was not ideal to house the R2R project at the Environment Department then because of the limited space hence the decision to extend the space while the project implementation unit was temporarily housed at the Met Services office.

“But the PIU office was a temporary space (at the Met Offices) while we worked on raising funds to extend the Environment building to accommodate the team. This was important to ensure that the R2R PIU team worked closely with the departments under the Ministry umbrella on implementing activities under the R2R project to enhance capacity and facilitate continuity so when the funding of the project ends and all the work that has been established will be continued by the government and key stakeholders.

“This was the strategy that we put across to UNDP at the end of the first year of the R2R project and we got approval to allocate funding from the project to help extend the environment building to accommodate the R2R PIU”, explained Dr. Tamate.

Dr. Josie Tamate said that the extension of the Department of Environment was the necessary link to continue the work that the R2R project started several years ago when the project comes to an end in April this year.

“This is not going to be just another office space. It was the necessary and important link to continue to work on activities that R2R project started throughout the last five years. Most of these works fall under the mandate of the Environment department, especially on biodiversity and conservation.

“The intention is to enhance and maintain the links between the Ministry of Natural resources and Taoga Niue, Tourism, Education, the GIS unit under the Justice, Lands and Survey Department, the departments of Utilities and Transport and the two departments and the projects such as the NOW project under the Ministry of Natural Resources”, said Dr. Tamate.

Over the years, the Environment Department has also grown, having started with just six staff has now grown to fifteen staff with possibly more to join the team.

Director of Environment Department Haden Talagi in his speech thanked the local contractor Stan Tafatu and his team, the donors UNDP & GEF through the Ridge to Reef Project, and the Project Management Coordination Unit (PMCU) for the finalisation of the project despite the many challenges.

“Many challenges lay ahead as the covid pandemic lingers on globally. Supply chain disruptions travel restrictions, omicron spreading rapidly but at the same time we need to recognise our achievements. Unfortunately, our solar energy, computers and furniture have not arrived but as they say, the show goes on” said Mr. Talagi

Dr. Josie Tamate joined everyone in thanking the donors and the Ridge to Reef project with which the extension to the Environment Department was made possible especially “To the UNDF, GEF Ridge to Reef project and the UNDP Team at the Multi-country office in Apia for this very important collaboration”.

Haden Talagi said that they are excited to have more space, but they still must wait for the furniture and the equipment because of the chain of supply issues with the pandemic.

It was not revealed in the speeches on the day how much funding went into the extension of the Environment Department.

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