Minister; custom's inspection system is not 100%

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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Minister of Revenue: Tialavea Tionisio Hunt.

Minister of Revenue: Tialavea Tionisio Hunt. (Photo: Samoa Observer)

The lack of a proper Customs facility, plays a role in why the shipment of containers are not thoroughly inspected upon arrival into Samoa. 

This is according to Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt in response to Samoa Observer questions regarding the inspections of containers. 

The Minister confirmed their system is not 100% but “I have to trust my staff, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on, there’s always something going on,” he said. 

Tialavea gave an example. 

“I was there [Customs Office] for a meeting and while walking into the office, a 40ft container just parked outside the office for inspection. “After 45 minutes I came out, and the container was gone. 

“I raised the issue. How come it only took 45 minutes to inspect a 40ft container,” he noted. 

The Minister told Samoa Observer, he saw first hand how unsafe it was for the customs to conduct the inspection thoroughly. 

“When its a sunny day, it’s relatively hot inside the container. 

“Also you have to consider the dust when its windy and of course blows directly to the customs officers while inspecting the container. 

“Even for me, as honest as I am. I cannot go through the entire inspection with the dust blowing my way, may as well close the container. 

“This is a health hazard. 

“Its worse when it rains. There are no proper facilities, that is why the customs officers cannot conduct their inspections thoroughly. “That’s one of the issues I am looking at,” he told Samoa Observer. 

The Minister further noted that he understands what his staff are going through. 

“I feel sorry for my staff given the conditions of where they conduct their work is unhealthy.” 

Asked as to why the Ministry does not have a proper facility, Tialavea explained there is no funding to build a warehouse. 

“I came on board and the treasury took back $300,00 that was initially allocated to build a warehouse. 

“Now I am trying to fix this.   These are some of the issues that needs to be addressed. Its a health hazard and its not safe for our employees,” said Tialavea. 

The Minister further pointed out this is one of the reasons why he’s “thankful” for the “Green Lane List” process the Customs Division has in place. 

As reported two weeks ago, there are certain companies whose containers do not go through routine Customs inspections upon arrival in Samoa.  

These companies are on the Ministry of Revenue’s “Green Lane” list. It means their shipments are “prepaid” and the companies get their containers right away. Tialavea was responding to questions Samoa Observer. The Minister was asked for a comment about concerns expressed that some containers are not checked at the wharf. 

According to the Minister, the practice is the result of their mutual working relationship with the private sector.  He explained the practice had been in place long before he was appointed to the post.  

 “This is based on the trust we have for these companies. “These companies prepays their tax duties and they are honest with the invoices submitted, to customs so their shipments are released immediately,” said Tialavea. 

“But at the same time, the customs conduct spot checks. However if a company is not being honest, then they will be taken off the list and their shipments will be checked all the time.”   

Asked how many companies are on the “Green Lane List,” the Minister was not sure. 

 “I do not know. They [customs] just told me about this system and I said continue on with it. 

“However there are times, the operation of [Green Lane] list is temporarily halted, if the spot checks uncover anything that is not declared on the invoice, then the next shipment the customs officers will conduct a thorough inspection.”  

Asked if the government would reconsider such a list given concerns expressed about its legitimacy, he said: “The relationship with the private sector is important to me and as much as we want every company to undergo inspections but the companies want their shipment to be released as soon as possible.  

“Once its sold, the taxes come back to us. But that does not mean that they are not paying their taxes.  

“No, they are paying their taxes.” 

The Minister also revealed that the government is ordering cargo x-ray scanner for containers. 

 “Once those arrive, all the containers will go through inspection by Customs,” he said.  

 “In the meantime, if we check each and every container that comes into the Port, this will delay the release of company goods.  

The Minister applauded his “predecessors for initiating this system which benefits everyone.”

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