A Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, is calling on the Ministry of Revenue to stop the “Green Lane List” system.
He said it is irresponsible for them to continue it when they don’t know what else is entering the country through the containers that are immediately released without proper supervision.
The call follows the confiscation of a container two weeks ago, allegedly smuggled into the country using falsified documents.
According to Olo, this is a serious issue of security for Samoa’s borders.
“Who knows what other stuff is being smuggled into our country that has not been intercepted by the Customs Officers because of their system?” Olo asked during an interview with the Samoa Observer.
“I understand that this process is allowed based on trust but this does not guarantee all the businesses are trustworthy.
“This trust, between the Ministry of Revenue and the business community is a gamble, to be quite honest, I don’t see why this should continue when it’s quite clear that it is being abused.
“Who knows how many businesses are using it to smuggle in illegal stuff knowing they may not be caught.
“For instance this company that has now been caught, they did it knowing that they may get away with it…. and yet the government stands by their system when it’s crystal clear that it is an unsafe procedure.”
The M.P. said he understands the Green Lane List system has been in place for a long time.
But he sees it as a threat to the country.
“We are never sure as to what’s inside those containers because the Customs officers do not always check and again this is literally gambling with border control,” he said.
According to Olo, it takes up to 10 minutes to inspect the containers to determine whether the manifest matches what’s inside the shipment.
“Border control is very important and yet it appears that Samoa is not concerned about protecting what enters their borders.
“The Customs should do their job mandated by law and inspect the containers and not rely on a system that is not in accordance with local laws.
“This way, they will discover things that have been mis-declared and under-declared for the safety of our country.”
Olo also questioned why is it the Ministry of Revenue has yet to invest in a scanner.
“I know it is expensive but we are talking about the safety of our country in terms of border control. It has been approved by the Cabinet and Parliament, what is the delay?”
The M.P. pointed out this latest incident should be an eye opener for the government in general.
“We should be more vigilant, with what enters our borders. What if, the confiscated items were not sodas…what then?
“Is it really worth it for our government to take this risk, because they want to keep their Green Lane List system alive, and at what cost?”
The Member of Parliament told the Samoa Observer that last year the Customs intercepted and confiscated illegal firearms smuggled through various containers and parcels sent to Samoa.
“I know the items confiscated were done through inspection and again it goes back to my point that this is a risk our government should not continue taking,” said Olo.
As reported earlier, Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt confirmed that an internal investigation has been launched into the release of the five containers.
“The red flag arose with the increasing number of containers that had been imported,” he said. “Usually this company brings in two containers but this time, it had increased to five.
“The manifest indicated the items in the container were furniture but we found out they were not. All five containers were released under the Custom’s Green Lane List.”
When the Ministry became suspicious, they demanded further information.
“That was never provided by the local business and then we had to step in and to confiscate the containers.
“By the time we got to the containers, there was only one left and we took 2,300 soda cases. We confiscated the shipment from a Chinese Store.
“I don’t know what the connection is between the Chinese store and the businessman, but we will find out as the Customs are doing an investigation.”
According to Tialavea, the internal investigation will determine if there was collusion in the matter. He said the government has zero tolerance for this type of activity.
“One of the containers should have been opened,” he said. “I am not saying we are at fault, but the Customs Officers should have opened at least one.
“I don’t understand why that was not done, but I am certain that we will get to the bottom of this.”
The Minister also pointed out the matter is a clear “breach of trust” between the business and the Ministry.
“And this businessman has abused the system that was created for the operation to run smoothly.
“I know we will be highly criticized for this incident for our Green Lane list, but this does not mean we will suspend this system.
“It’s working as the businesses prepay their shipment and the companies get their containers right away.
“This practice is the result of our mutual, working relationship with the private sector and this system had been in place long before and we will not change it, due to the actions of one business.
“This means the Customs Officers need to more vigilant and more judgmental and they will now conduct more spot checks.
“One things for sure is that this company will be taken off the list and their shipments will be checked all the time.”