The “discretion clause” under the Customs Act allowing the Ministry of Revenue to issue cash fines, should be removed from the statute.
That is the opinion of Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai.
He was responding to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s decision to support the Ministry of Revenue’s decision not to take legal action against a company whose container was confiscated by Customs Officers in September 2017.
At the time, Minister of Revenue and Customs, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt told the Samoa Observer the container was allegedly smuggled into the country using falsified documents.
Instead of taking the matter to Court, the Ministry of Revenue has decided to settle the matter with the company involved. The details remain hidden.
But Olo told the Samoa Observer the government is setting a bad example for Samoa.
He said he encountered the same issue and he was criminally charged.
“I was cleared of the charges, but my point is I that was prosecuted at the time. Why is the case at hand any different?
“At the time I was in Parliament and that did not stop the government from moving forward with the case. And I am glad they did, because what they accused me of was wrong.
“However in this case, Minister Tialavea publicly announced the allegations of smuggling and falsifying of documents.
“It is illegal to smuggle, there’s alleged forgery and falsifying of documents.
“The law has been broken on so many levels, yet the government has opted to utilize their discretion? This is totally wrong.
“Also what happened to the Attorney General, I’m certain he’s well versed of what is happening under his nose.
“Who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t? Where is the justice in this.”
Olo reminded that there is a reason laws exist.
“If the company is prosecuted and they are cleared, then at least we can say the government did its due diligence. But to sweep this under the rug because of the authority’ discretion given to the Customs Office, it is wrong. That is in violation of the law.
“The Prime Minister says the government needs to recover the money first. What about the alleged crime that has been committed and publicly announced by Minister Tialavea?”
The furious Olo says the matter should not be any different to other companies who have violated the law and have been taken to court for a fair trial.
“We might as well repeal the whole Customs Act and leave all the irregularities cases the Customs encounter, including cases of smuggling, to their discretion,” said Olo.
During Tuilaepa’s weekly media conference yesterday, he had an urgent engagement and there was no opportunity to put questions to him.
But during a recent interview, he said government, on certain cases, considers recovering the money more important than prosecuting the matter.
“When you think about it, if the accused is charged and arrested, what will happen to the money that needs to be paid back?” Tuilaepa responded.
“So that’s the thing you have to think about, whether to arrest the accused and what next?
“There will always be those people who will smuggle stuff in no matter what penalties are put in place, but the most important thing to do is to recover the loss.”
Tuilaepa did not have the figures on how much the government recovered. Attempts to get them from the Minister Tialavea have also been unsuccessful.