An email from the government’s Financial Secretary, Lavea Tupaimatuna Iulai Lavea, arrived the other day. Sent to all members of the media as well as associate members, the gist of Lavea’s missive seems clear enough.
He is disputing the claim made by the Member of Parliament, Afualo Dr. Wood Salele – he is also the Opposition’s shadow finance minister - that said: “We have an appropriation budget that is $9.1 million and revenue is only $8.5 million, an excess of $477,000.”
Afualo said those figures were in the 2015 First Supplementary Budget tabled before parliament Tuesday last week, and were published in the Samoa Obsever on Thursday.
But that was not true, said Lavea, who then accused Afulalo of misleading the public. Lavea said it was all a “misconception” on Afulalo’s part adding that there was “no excess” as it had been insinuated by the Opposition M.P.
“The $477,000 represents savings which have been identified under the Parliamentary Pension Scheme Administration of $400,000 and $77,000 under the Ministry for Revenue,” Lavea said.
“These savings are to be relocated to finance part of the First Supplementary Budget.
“To that effect, there is no excess and the supplementary estimates is balanced with revenue savings equalling expenditures.
“There is no revenue shortfall as insinuated by the M.P.”
He’s probably right. But then these explanations are sounding so mundane to the ear they have long ago ceased to mean anything exciting for the mind to cheer up about.
The point is that with all the scores of millions of Tala in public funds that have been allegedly squandered by the government over the years through sheer negligence, utter disregard of proper democratic practices and abject corruption, what difference would a piddling “$477,000 representing savings” in comparison make?
Nada, sweet nada* dear Lavea, as the Spaniards would say.
On the radio the following day his boss, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, rubbished Afualo and all the Opposition MPs – especially their leader “Palusalue” – saying they knew nothing about government budgets because they were not accountants.
They are “lawyers” and “economists”, Tuilaepa said, and that way they knew nothing about what they were talking about.
Incidently, let’s just say that Afualo has got to know something; indeed, quite a lot. Like Tuilaepa himself and all those worshiping him now, Afualo went to university. He attended the University of Guelph, Ontario (Canada), University of New England, and the University of the South Pacific.
And now an M.P, he is a Member of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, and a Member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Revenue Committee; he is a career teacher and lecturer, and to top it off, he is also in the Faculty of Business of the National University of Samoa.
Now that to us is quite something, whether or not Tuilaepa and the naysayers like it.
As for that measly “$477,000” Lavea is griping about saying it “represents savings under the Parliamentary Pension Scheme” somewhere, well, the way we see it, it’s a tiny drop in a hole in the ground for all that anyone cares.
So what do you think Samoa?
Now that Christmas is near, and there is reason to believe it would be wonderful really to begin the New Year ahead on a clean slate, how about the government’s Financial Secretary telling us about that rarely talked about government institution called S.I.F.A.?
All that we know about it is what the Internet is telling us.
It said S.I.F.A. was established by the government under the Samoa International Finance Authority Act 2005, it is government-owned and administered, and that one of its primary roles is “to provide the most up to date wealth management solutions to prospective and current investors seeking to establish and maintain structures for their benefits.”
Now as non-accountants, that is pretty vague stuff, the mind boggles. We need help.
Still, the Internet goes on to advise that “information and services described herein shall be used as a guide only and those seeking to utilise these services are advised to seek professional advice or contact S.I.F.A. via the mediums provided for detailed information.”
And then comes the warning pertaining to the special role that S.I.F.A. was set up to play, saying: “Confidentiality of information pertaining to users of its international finance centre is exclusively provided for under SIFA’s laws.
“There are also gateway provisions in its relevant laws to balance confidentiality against any potential misuse or abuse of the solutions S.I.F.A. offers via the Proceeds of Crime, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and the Money Laundering Prevention Acts 2007.”
Anyway, that was how secretive S.I.F.A. was then, and it is still so today.
And so, is it safe to say that with Samoa’s Money Laundering Prevention Act 2007, this country of ours that is supposed to be founded on God, is now legitimately a tax haven?
It other words, is it now safe to say that our government has been a lawful partner in the aiding and abetting of alleged criminals around the world, to hide their millions of dollars in our tax haven so that they did not have to pay taxes on them to their own governments?
The way we see it, thinking about finally getting an answer to that one would be something to really look forward to this Christmas anyway.
Well, we know that it pays to be a tax haven. And why not! Who wants to pay taxes to their governments anyway! The reports say “Ireland has become rich that way. So why don’t all countries follow the Irish example, cut their capital taxes, and become quite wealthy as a result?”
They explain: “One reason is structural. As the economic standard model of tax competition explains, small countries gain from competitive tax cuts while large countries suffer.”
The reports go on to say “the largest country on most tax haven lists is Switzerland with a population size of 7.5 million.
“Large states lose in welfare terms. They are better off farming domestic tax resources. According to this logic, we should expect small countries to engage in aggressive tax strategies.
“And yet, small states can gain from tax competition, and poaching foreign tax base is potentially welfare-enhancing for them.”
The logic then seems clear enough.
Samoa is a small country. Its economy is unflatteringly unpredictable. So why doesn’t it register as a tax haven and become rich as a result for doing close to nothing?
Come to think of it though, the idea that Samoa is now a tax haven is clearly a brilliant idea that could have been conceived only by someone with also a brilliant mind, and naturally Prime Minister Tuilaepa, as its chief architect, should be loudly applauded with a pat or two on the back.
And so to put it blindly, as Samoa’s money-laundering machine is apparently still cleaning up allegedly illicit dollar bills in the millions today, as its rewards for getting the job done well are also still being churned up at the other end to this day, there is reason to believe that in this country founded on God, even “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”**
The point is that all the proceeds our government may have made – and it is likely to make into the future from this ludicrously dubious scheme where criminals are able to evade paying taxes to their own governments - is not going to help increase employment or slow down escalating poverty in corrupt-ridden Samoa?
On the other hand, the solution is still plain enough. Only the lawful elimination of corruption breeding corruption throughout the government the honest way, can do that.
Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless.
* nada, is nothing in Italian.
** Shakespeare: Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 1.