What are they waiting for?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Now that the dust is slowly settling after the euphoria of the finding out who is in Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s new Cabinet, someone needs to remind these folks that to move forward, we need to deal with the past and learn our lessons from there.

Indeed, the time for celebration is over. It’s time to get down to work. Barring a Cabinet Minister who could be removed by a Court petition in the next few weeks, the work for the new Cabinet Ministers has already been cut out. And it has a lot to do with sorting out today’s perennial problems staring us in the face, unwilling to go away – even when we try our best to ignore them. 

One of the biggest unresolved problems in this country in our opinion is the unbridled corruption found in some of the government bodies by the Chief Auditor and the Officers of Parliament Committee reports. These were raised during the last Parliamentary sitting and although they have been glanced over and ignored, we believe they must be revisited for the sake of transparency, justice and accountability.

Incidentally, as if it was a heaven-sent, an interesting press release came from the government two days ago. Authored by the National Prosecution Office (N.P.O), the release was to inform the world that recently established N.P.O and the Samoa Audit Office had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, allowing the offices to work together for the efficient and effective prosecution of “fraudulent activities and corruption.” 

“Expertise in the handling of complicated fraudulent activities and corruption is necessary for the effective prosecution of such alleged offending,” the statement reads. 

“The Samoa Audit Office has such expertise that is crucial to the development of these complicated prosecution matters for trial. It is therefore hoped that this partnership will lead to more efficient and effective prosecution of these complicated matters requiring the expertise of forensic accountants of which the Samoa Audit Office will endeavor to develop.”

Well this is excellent news, isn’t it?

It reminds us of a similar agreement signed last year between the Attorney General’s Office and the Audit Office, also talking about addressing corruption and fraud. We don’t know if this is the same thing as the new N.P.O and Audit Office deal.

Whatever it is though, it sure is reassuring that these offices have verbally committed to work together to tackle these issues head on. But an agreement means nothing unless it is put to use. 

We say this because we believe there are blatant acts of wrongdoing that are screaming at us to correct and do something about. 

We’re referring to a file of documents in which “documentary evidences” were presented to Prime Minister Tuilaepa last year to prove that public servants had colluded to defraud public funds at the Samoa Land Corporation (S.L.C). 

Dated 24 January 2015, the letter followed Parliament’s decision to pass the long-awaited government response to the report by the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C). In the O.P.C report, a recommendation was made to take legal action against the public servants in question.

In its response, however, Prime Minister Tuilaepa acknowledged the issues raised but assured that remedial actions have been taken by the government to improve its performance. 

With that, nothing further was said about the recommendation to take legal action against public servants implicated. Which effectively meant those officials have gotten away scot-free.

Now that had upset the then Chairman of Parliament’s Public Finance Committee, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, who had been very vocal against the idea of “corrupt practises” being allowed to fester within the government, at the expense of people who are suffering in silence.

Papali’i then challenged the Prime Minister and demanded that he takes another look at the documents the O.P.C had provided. 

In light of the agreement by the N.P.O and the Audit Office to “work together for the efficient and effective prosecution of fraudulent activities and corruption,” we believe they need to look at this evidence. Here it is again:

 

• ILLEGAL RELEASE OF 10% RETENTION FUND – COLLUSSION TO DEFRAUD PUBLIC FUNDS 

An act to defraud public funds was committed by the Minister, C.E.O and the contractor whereby the contractor requested the release of the 10% Retention Fund using a “fake” Insurance Policy as guarantee and approved by the Minister and C.E.O knowing very well that the Insurance was fake as there were no premiums paid and reconfirmed by the insurance company that the said Policy was not valid for any claim. 

Moreover, the early release of the 10% Retention Fund before the completion of the project and before the expiry of 12 months after completion violated the conditions of the Contractor’s Agreement. A fraudulent activity has been committed which no doubt is a criminal offence. 

 

• BREACH OF INCOME TAX ACT 2012 

Progress Payments re: Contract Price to contractor without the deduction of Withholding Taxes violated section 95 of the Income Tax Act 2012. For your information, the Minister and his C.E.O during his tenure as Minister for Sth. Pacific Games Authority (S.P.G.A) also violated the Act by not withholding the said taxes from payments made to Contractors. (Please refer to Controller & Chief Auditor’s Report 2010 that was never tabled in Parliament on the S.P.G.A Financial Statements with a “Qualified Audit Opinion” and other unsatisfactory issues raised therein involving gross mismanagement.) Yearly Bonuses paid to staff also violated the Income Tax Act by not deducting PAYE taxes from gross amounts of bonuses. 

 

• SUSPICIOUS TRANSACTIONS IN 

PROCUREMENTS OF ASSETS FROM 

MIDDLE MAN COMPANY

The Chief Auditor was concerned with payments made by S.L.C to the middleman company paid in NZ$ & US$ involving millions of Tala whilst the Company is a registered Samoan Company. All Invoices received from the company’s bank account in New Zealand. This practice of account payments is considered not the best practice as it denied any VAGST to be paid to the government. The company also procured the expensive Water Drill Rig for S.L.C which arrived in an unsatisfactory condition. Please refer to Documentary Evidences regarding the suspicious procurement process and the inflated Invoices which suggested that SLC management colluded with the c=ompany to entertain a corrupt activity. The same company was used by the Minister as the SPGA Minister to procure various assets which raises the concern by the Chief Auditor of why the Minister kept using the same middleman without any quotations from other suppliers since he found that such reckless practice would cost more to SLC. 

 

• SLC MAIN HEADQUARTERS 

(OFFICE) AT TUANAIMATO 

The variations amounting to $2,419,977.12 required to complete SLC’s new headquarters at a cost of $5,219,977.12 more than doubled the original cost of $2,800,000.00 approved by Cabinet and the said variations were never referred to Cabinet for approval as per usual government policy. The OPC committee in its investigations found a lot of other anomalies including payments made to sub-contractors that the committee considered such transactions not at “arms length” as the payments made for signwriting of $120,670.00 was paid to a company which the committee was informed that the said company was owned by the Minister’s son in law. There were also payments made to a landscaping company of $62,500.00 that the committee believed not at “arms length” as well. The committee believed that the Variations were too excessive and the completed work was found very unsatisfactory given that the up-graded elevator was never in operation despite been paid an additional cost of $310,000.00 on top of the original approved cost of $180,000.00. At the end of day, SLC paid $490,000.00 for an expensive broken down elevator. 

At this point, it is important to remember that this is not the first time these matters have been raised. Keep in mind that these are just some of the many issues raised by the O.P.C and the Chief Auditor in relation to the performance of some government bodies.

Obviously there is so much work to be done. 

And with the M.O.U by the N.P.O and the Audit Office to prosecute “fraudulent activities and corruption” what are they waiting for?

© Samoa Observer 2016

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