Cabinet Minister downplays conflict of interest claim

By Deidre Tautua ,

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MINISTER AND BUSINESS OWNER: Afamasaga Rico Tupa'i remains a Director of Skylite Productions and Starsignz Limited.

MINISTER AND BUSINESS OWNER: Afamasaga Rico Tupa'i remains a Director of Skylite Productions and Starsignz Limited. (Photo: Samoa Observer / File)

A Cabinet Minister has downplayed his connection with family-owned businesses despite having assured the public last year he had stepped away from them.

The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, de-emphasised his involvement in response to questions raised by a concerned member of the public that Skylite Productions Limited is still registered under his name.

It is one of two family-owned businesses that remain registered under the Minister’s name. 

The other one is Starsignz Limited.

According to business registration documents from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, both companies are hundred percent owned by the Minister.

The Directors are the Minister’s wife, Asenati Tupa’i, and the Minister himself.

Asked for a comment, Minister Afamasaga told the Samoa Observer through a text message that his initial intention was to remove his name.

However, legally he said he couldn’t.

“Yes that was the intention,” he said. 

“However I can’t legally do that as I have company loans under my name.” 

But the Minister insisted that he is no longer involved in running the businesses.

An industry source disputed this, claiming that the Minister’s businesses have been utilised by the Ministry under the watch of the Minister.

For example, the source told the Samoa Observer that the signs on vehicles belonging to projects under the Minister’s portfolio have been printed by Starsignz.These include the signs and other works for the Submarine Cable Company, the source said.

As for Skylite Productions, the source claimed the company continues to be involved in a number of government-funded projects – including some of the biggest production projects. 

“This is a small country,” the source said. 

“Skylite is in the process of doing a project with the Office of the Regulator. These are government projects. Were they tendered and how transparent was the tendering process?"

“You do the Maths, the Office of the Regulator is under his portfolio so it’s conflict of interest."

“After all he is still a Director of the companies."

“I know it’s not going to change the world but the reason why I am raising this is because the truth matters."

This is a Minister who went on the record saying he is no longer involved with all his companies and yet the documents say otherwise.

“What does that say? It’s been more than a year since he became a Minister.”

Last year after the election, the Minister had publicly announced he had pulled out from any involvement with his businesses.

“There is really no conflict at all in this,” Afamasagatold the Samoa Obsererat the time about SkyliteProductions.

“It’s a production company that does work for media companies, but through my office it has informed all sectors and everybody they do work for that I am no longer involved with the work (of Skylite).”

According to Afamasaga there are Managers running the company and assured that “I have pulled out completely in terms of position and involvement.”

Afamsaga added that he takes his oath seriously. 

“I have made my oath to prioritise (and work) for interest of the government and general public,” he pointed out. 

“That is what I focus on. You can have your own interests and Skylite can have their own but individual interest is not my main concern as my decision is based on the general needs of the public.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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