N.P.O., Virgin outstanding and former M.P. Lefau

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Perhaps former Member of Parliament, Lefau Harry Schuster, really did have a point. A few years ago when he was a member of the Tautua Samoa Party when Parliament actually had an official opposition party, Lefau said the government had been in power long enough. 

While he acknowledged that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the H.R.P.P. had done a lot to develop Samoa, after nearly 40 years at the helm, he said it was time they move on. 

Lefau made the point that government’s reckless attitude towards spending and other failed projects had driven the country to unimaginable debt, which will be shouldered by generations of Samoa to come. 

The claim of course was rejected by Prime Minister Tuilaepa who called Lefau a “fool” among other colourful descriptive words. Keep in mind that the point was made a few years ago but it couldn’t be more relevant today looking at what’s unfolding before us. Let’s just look at two recent examples of such glorious waste taxpayers money.

The decision to quash the National Prosecution Office, which had only been established after years of work and money spent on it is a classic example of waste of money.

For the uninitiated, the N.P.O.was one of Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s grand dreams. At the time, we were told the government wanted to improve the provision of prosecution services. 

But the setting up of the N.P.O. required a lot of work. For example, in 2014 legal consultants from the Commonwealth Secretariat were deployed to formulate and structure the organisation. There were consultations held with all the relevant stakeholders costing a lot of money and time.

With the Office opened, from an outsider’s perspective, all seemed to have been functioning well. If there were any internal divisions – including clashes with the Attorney General’s Office and the Police – they certainly weren’t visible publically.

But the calm didn’t last long. In August last year, it all started to unravel when Mauga was arrested and charged by the Police. On the other side of town, the Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, was also charged on the same day

Cabinet immediately decided to return the prosecutorial duties previously with N.P.O. to the Office of the Attorney General. But that wasn’t all. Cabinet appointed a Tribunal to evaluate not just the performance of the former Director and Acting Director of N.P.O. but also the validity of the establishment of the N.P.O. 

Today, the N.P.O. is no more. The facts are, years and years of work had gone into establishing the N.P.O. costing taxpayers thousands of tala and already it is gone. Just like that. Waste of public monies? Absolutely.

But this is just one example of the government’s reckless attitude towards public monies. On yesterday’s front page, outspoken Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, had blasted Prime Minister Tuilaepa government for its “failure” to pay Virgin Australia US$4.02million (T$9.2m) in jet fuel excise rebates. This is despite the fact Virgin Australia has been actively pursuing the payment from the government since April 2015.

“Now Virgin Australia is asking the government to fork out $9 million, who will pay for this?” Olo said. “We will, which is sad. And yet this is a government mistake and of course the low income people will have to fork out for the money.”

Olo said the government’s attitude towards money owing to Virgin was typical.

“The government didn’t follow through with deals and signed agreements made with this Airline and this is the end result, we end up paying for the mistake,” he said.

And how much are talking about?

Millions. Yes we are talking about millions of tala wasted by the government due to negligence, incompetence and corruption at worst. 

Stop for a minute and think about this. If that was your money, would you do the same? Absolutely not.

So why has this government been so reckless with our taxpayers’ money? How many more millions do we need to lose before these government officials wake up? Is it not time for a law to hold these public servants to account for their poor decision making? 

Ironically, isn’t it downright cruel that there are families living on the very edge of absolute poverty in this country today and yet our government is continuing to dump millions of tala into projects that fail?

In Samoa today, there are people suffering from poverty and growing hardship. We see them everywhere. Theirs are stories of a perennial struggle to cope with today’s crippling cost of living, where in doing so they know they must resort to austerity measures to get by; for them there is not a glimmer of hope in sight.

And here we have a government that seems content to just let these millions slip by the wayside as if it’s normal. 

Now let’s go back to Lefau’s call made a few years ago. Maybe he did have a point. 

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