The Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt has brushed off suggestions by a local businessman there are Customs officers who purposely overlook the correct quantities on certain alcoholic beverage orders by some of our local competitors.
Tialavea also said he welcomes the investigation by the Ombudsman’s office into the matter.
He was responding to Samoa Observer questions regarding an official complaint filed by Manu Meredith with the Ombudsman to investigate the Ministry of Revenue over “practices regarding import and duty compliance.”
The Minister told Samoa Observer in an interview at his office “in the spirit of transparency, we welcome the investigation if there is one as we have nothing to hide,” said Tialavea.
As reported earlier, letters obtained by the Samoa Observer indicate that the correspondence between Le Well Company Limited and the Ministry of Revenue-Customs Department has been going on for more than a year.
“We believe there are Customs officers who purposely overlook the correct quantities on certain alcoholic beverages orders by some of our local competitors, in order for those companies to pay less than the required duties, thereby making the retail prices lower than they should be,” the letter reads.
Mr. Meredith claims that he has written to the Customs Department C.E.O. Avalisa Viali-Fautua'alii many times.
Tialavea in response, told Samoa Observer he was aware of the complaints. “I was informed of the issues and when I looked into them, the matter is out of our hands.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s the retail prices that he was not happy about as other companies are selling the same product at much cheaper price.
“It has nothing to do with any practice, as he claims on import and duty compliance.
“The invoices that we received from this company are legitimate and it matches the tax amount the company paid.
“There are no such practices of unfair import and duty compliance. The customs officers are doing their job to the best of their ability,” he said.
“The insinuation that Customs officers are not charging these companies the appropriate taxes are unfounded. I stand by that statement and the response of my C.E.O. [Avalisa Viali-Fautua'alii],” said Tialavea.
As Samoa Observer reported last month, Mr. Meredith claims that he has written to the Customs Department C.E.O Avalisa many times.
“Only to be told that she would do an internal investigation."
“However, we feel it is also necessary that an external investigation should be made into these practices so that we feel we are being treated fairly and will not have to questions the integrity of this very department,” said Meredith.
Correspondence that started in late 2015 between Mr. Meredith and the Customs C.E.O. was obtained by Samoa Observer.
In November last year for example, Mr. Meredith wrote to Avalisa Fautua'alii about the issue of “fair competition.”
“The intent of my communications with your department is reassurance that there is fair competition across all suppliers of liquor imported as well as produced locally,” the letter reads.
Mr. Meredith pointed out to the C.E.O. that “local spirits with 30% over alcohol content should have a tax of $19.96 per liter plus 15% V.A.G.S.T [Value Added Goods and Services Tax] (not including labor, materials and profit etc).”
He said the selling prices for liquor 1liter claiming to have 45% alcohol content is $21.00 including V.A.G.S.T.
According to Mr. Meredith, the prices they have researched assume these local liquor products have less than 30% alcohol content, then the pricing would be in line with local tax requirements.
He also directed the C.E.O. to a local wholesale who has been selling wine reportedly from Europe yet the local price “is very cheap for European improved wines."
“I do not want to assume that your office or some officers are overlooking these matters but I want to be reassured the competition from local businesses are all treated fairly,” said Meredith.”
In response to Mr. Meredith, an email dated 17 November 2017 from the C.E.O. said Customs was “under no obligation to report to you on whatever findings we may have."
“We will deal directly with the company if any such issue is noted or found to be happening.”
Contacted for a comment, Mr. Meredith refused to speak to the Samoa Observer on the record.
Efforts to get a direct comment from the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma on the status of this matter were unsuccessful.
A visit to the Ombudsman’s office led to nothing as Maiava referred the questions to Assistant Ombudsman, Maualaivao Pepe Seiuli, who has yet to respond to questions sent to him last month.