Well now that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has reassured that he runs a totally transparent government, it must be said that yesterday’s front-page story titled “What corruption? We’re transparent” was a very interesting read.
It’s great for the Prime Minister to take the time to tell us just how transparent his administration has been. Isn’t it wonderful to read? Isn’t it fabulous that we have such leaders who would openly tell us just how good they are, especially in tackling corruption?
Prime Minister Tuilaepa must surely be applauded. Listen to him again:
“With the call by these people to set up an Anti Corruption Tribunal, what corruption (are you referring to) when there are already ways of dealing with it?
“The government is not interfering with anything. Everything is transparent and in accordance with the principles of good governance. With this government, everything is being brought to the fore so we are accountable.
He added: “So I don’t know where they keep coming up with this idea, raising doubts about the government and yet the government is continuing to perform its duties under the principles of good governance it is guided by.”
Good governance? Well now that he’s mentioned corruption; let us be reminded here once more.
Published on the front page of the Sunday Samoan sometime last year was a letter to Prime Minister Tuilaepa in which “documentary evidences” were contained to prove that public servants had indeed colluded to defraud public funds and commit corrupt practises.
Dated 24 January 2015, the letter written by Papali’i Niko Lee Hang followed Parliament’s decision to pass government response to the report by the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C).
In its response, however, Prime Minister Tuilaepa acknowledged the issues raised but assured that remedial actions have been taken by the government to improve its performance.
With that, nothing further was said about the recommendation to take legal action against public servants implicated.
Which effectively means those officials have gotten away scot-free. For now.
Papali’i though was not convinced.
So he had gone back to the Prime Minister and asked that he take another look at the documents the O.P.C had provided. Papali’i by the way was among a host of Members of Parliament who had been extremely vocal against the idea of “corrupt practises” being allowed to fester within the government, at the expense of people who are suffering in silence.
In taking the Prime Minister to task over the government’s response to the O.P.C, Papali’i had a message.
“You usually talk in public and use a scripture from the Bible, James 4 verse 17 which says that ‘Whoever knows what is right but does not do it, is sinning’” Papali’i reminded Tuilaepa. “I apologise your Honour but I have to show you (evidence of) the corrupt practices committed… because I fear God and his Word.”
Ladies and gentlemen, here is that evidence one more time. We know many of you have seen it before.
But in reading the Prime Minister’s comments about transparency, accountability and good governance, it’s imperative that we see where the idea comes from that this country needs an Anti Corruption Tribunal.
Here is the evidence provided by Papali’i Niko Lee Hang and the O.P.C:
• ILLEGAL RELEASE OF 10% RETENTION FUND
– COLLUSION TO DEFRAUD PUBLIC FUNDS
An act to defraud public funds was committed by the Minister, C.E.O and the contractor whereby the contractor requested the release of the 10% Retention Fund using a “Fake” Insurance Policy as guarantee and approved by the Minister and C.E.O knowing very well that the Insurance was fake as there were no premiums paid and reconfirmed by the insurance company that the said Policy was not valid for any claim. Moreover, the early release of the 10% Retention Fund before the completion of the project and before the expiry of 12 months after completion violated the conditions of the Contractor’s Agreement. A fraudulent activity has been committed which no doubt is a criminal offence.
• BREACH OF INCOME TAX ACT 2012
Progress Payments re: Contract Price to contractor without the deduction of Withholding Taxes violated section 95 of the Income Tax Act 2012. Yearly Bonuses paid to staff also violated the Income Tax Act by not deducting PAYE taxes from gross amounts of bonuses.
• SUSPICIOUS TRANSACTIONS IN PROCUREMENTS
OF ASSETS FROM MIDDLE MAN COMPANY
The Chief Auditor was concerned with payments made by S.L.C to the middleman company paid in NZ$ & US$ involving millions of Tala whilst the Company is a registered Samoan Company. All invoices received from the company’s bank account in New Zealand. This practice of account payments is considered not the best practice as it denied any VAGST to be paid to the government. The company also procured the expensive Water Drill Rig for SLC which arrived in an unsatisfactory condition.
• SLC MAIN HEADQUARTERS
(OFFICE) AT TUANAIMATO
The variations amounting to $2,419,977.12 required to complete SLC’s new headquarters at a cost of $5,219,977.12 more than doubled the original cost of $2,800,000.00 approved by Cabinet and the said variations were never referred to Cabinet for approval as per usual government policy.
The OPC committee in its investigations found a lot of other anomalies including payments made to sub-contractors that the committee considered such transactions not at “arms length” as the payments made for signwriting of $120,670.00 was paid to a company which the committee was informed that the said company was owned by the Minister’s son in law. There were also payments made to a landscaping company of $62,500.00 that the committee believed not at “arms length” as well. The committee believed that the Variations were too excessive and the completed work was found very unsatisfactory given that the upgraded elevator was never in operation despite paying an additional cost of $310,000.00 on top of the original approved cost of $180,000.00. At the end of the day, SLC paid $490,000.00 for an expensive broken down elevator.
Half a million for a broken elevator? How is that good governance? And what has been done since? Has anyone been held accountable for it? Is that good governance? But these are just some of the things in the O.P.C report. There is a lot more.
At the time, when Tuilaepa was asked about Papali’i’s letter containing the above evidence, he did not hold back.
“I’m praying that the light will reach him so he will remember I have not said anything or publicised any of the foolish things he did at the time when he was a Cabinet Minister,” Tuilaepa threatened. “I pray that he remembers that.”
The Prime Minister also maintained that the Cabinet Minister implicated did not break the law.
“The matter was referred to the Office of the Attorney General,” Tuilaepa said.
“They were to consider the allegations (to see) if there was a law violated by the Minister. (The investigation) is finished and a report was given to Cabinet that there was no law (violated by the Minister).”
If the government is so transparent, how come that piece of advice from the Attorney General has never been made public?
After all, what’s so secretive about legal advice that involves millions of taxpayer funds, paid for by members of the public?
Back to Papali’i, when told about Tuilaepa’s comments, he did not bat an eyelid.
“My question to the Prime Minister is that why make a threat when he doesn’t say what I did wrong?” Papali’i fired back. “That’s being personal, I call that very dirty politics. So I dare him to tell the public what I did wrong when I was the Minister. I know he is only saying these things because he doesn’t have an answer to the issues I’ve raised with him.”
Well does the government and the Prime Minister have an answer now? And will someone in the government tell us what the Attorney General said about the evidence provided by Papali’i?