The Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the Maritime Division of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.), Fepulea’i Mark Alesana, has been charged by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.).
Fepulea’i is facing six P.S.C. charges over his alleged connection to an Indian company, which had raised allegations of corruption against the Ministry’s Chief Executive Officer, Afamasaga Su’a Pou Onesemo.
The allegations have led to the C.E.O’s suspension, pending a Police investigation. The allegations, which have been strongly denied by Afamasaga, were raised by a former Member of Parliament of the Government of India, Sh.P.K. Bansal and his company called Ascent Navals in a letter they wrote to P.S.C.
On Friday, the Minister of M.W.T.I., Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, confirmed the P.S.C. charges against the A.C.E.O. He said the normal procedure is that the officials are suspended while the allegations are being investigated.
When the Sunday Samoan contacted Fepulea’i for a comment, he denied that he had been suspended.
“I’m on sick leave,” he said. “I had a heart problem at home and I was admitted to the hospital. If you want to see my medical report I can give it to you. But I am on sick leave for three months.”
Asked for a comment on the P.S.C. charges and the allegations against him, he said: “The C.E.O. is suspended. Are they looking for someone to divert the investigation of their C.E.O. to?”
He did not elaborate.
But a letter dated 15 June 2018 signed by P.S.C’s Delegate, Maiavatele Timothy Fesili, details the charges against Fepulea’i.
“Pursuant to section 44(1) of the Public Service Act, I hereby charge Fepuleai Faleniu Mark Alesana, A.C.E.O. Maritime Division, Ministry of Works, Infrastructure and Transport,” the letter reads.
The first charge against Fepulea’i alleges that he failed to disclose and take reasonable steps to avoid any real or apparent conflict of interest in relation to his employment as the A.C.E.O. for the Maritime Division at the M.W.T.I.
“Sometime in 2016, Cabinet approved the establishment of a Registry for Vessels (‘the Project’) in Samoa. The C.E.O. approved Ascent Navals Thailand as a Recognised Organisation (‘RO’) for Samoa to administer and operationalize the project. The approval was based on the invoice and recommendation of the A.C.E.O. for the Maritime Division Faleniu. There was no Express of Interest (“EOI”) published to the wider public to bid for the project. At no point in time did he disclose his relationship, personally or financially, to the Director General (Mr Sharma) of the complainant or earlier partnership agreement with the complainant to the C.E.O. or the Ministry,” the letter reads.
“Sometime in early 2017, the M.W.T.I. revoked the RO that was issued to Ascent Navals Thailand in 2015 due to Mr. Sharma being implicated for an illegal activity in 2015.
“Subsequently the M.W.T.I. advertised an Expression of Interest (‘EOI’) for companies who wished to become an RO for Samoa. Interestingly enough, the complainant was one of the companies who expressed their interests and was referred to the M.W.T.I. vetting team for processing. Faleniu was part of the vetting team that vetted the EOI’s and recommended that all EOI’s including the complainant proceed to the next stage. Again, Faleniu failed to disclose his real and apparent conflict of interest.”
The second charge alleges that Fepulea’i asked or accepted monetary gifts from Ascent Navals.
“Faleniu admitted to asking and accepting monetary gifts from Mr Sharma over the years,” the P.S.C. letter claims.
“In one occasion, he claimed to have received a total of $10,000 Tala from Mr. Sharma in 2017. On 12 June 2018, Faleniu advised the Commission Delegate that the money from Mr. Sharma were gifts and unrelated to any business transaction nor work related. However, there is doubt given the value of gifts and how often the transactions were made. It was too much of a coincidence given the nature of work and business Faleniu and the complainant (including Mr. Sharma) were in.”
The letter goes on to say that Fepulea’i admitted to have received monetary gifts from one “Chun Wing Fong” for services rendered through the Ministry in 2017.
The third charge accuses the A.C.E.O. of failing to seek approval from P.S.C. with respect to his occupation outside the Public Service.
“On or about the 4 November 2014, Faleniu, through his company Paramount Shipping Services entered into a partnership agreement with Ascent Navals Thailand to provide recruiting services for seafarers. At no point in time did Faleniu seek approval from the Commission,” the P.S.C. letter claims.
“On 4 May 2018, Faleniu became a director of Ascent Navals Register Samoa Limited. On 14 June 2018, Faleniu provided a response to the allegation that he had very limited knowledge of the said company. Whatever the case may be, Faleniu did not seek approval from the Commission.”
The fourth charge alleges that the A.C.E.O. failed to act in an honest and impartial manner.
“Sometime in 2016, prior to the C.E.O. approving the complainant as an approved RO for Samoa, Faleniu failed to advise the C.E.O. that the Director General for the complainant, Mr. Sharma, was also the Deputy Commissioner & Registrar for Samoa International Maritime Authority that was implicated for illegal activities in 2015.
“During the second interview with Faleniu, he denied any interactions with a company called Samoa International Maritime Authority. However, in 2015, there was an email from Faleniu to Mr. Sharma informing him of the illegality of S.I.M.A. To that end, Faleniu failed to act in an honest and impartial manner given his close friendship with Mr. Sharma and his wilful omission to withhold such information from the C.E.O. and the Ministry.
“Faleniu also failed to act with honesty during the interviews with the Commission Delegate. During the interview, Faleniu’s statements were contradictory and dishonest.”
Charge 5 accuses Fepuleai of failing to act with integrity and misusing his authority to seek or obtain a benefit for himself or any other person or body.
“Faleniu is the A.C.E.O. for the Maritime Division since 2012. His responsibility is to advise the C.E.O. on all matters maritime including, tenders, registry of vessels, recognised organisation and so on.
“In 2016 and 2017, he omitted to remove himself from advising the C.E.O. on important decisions concerning RO’s and EOI’s to which the complainant and Mr. Sharma were a party to. This is further exacerbated by Faleniu’s failure to disclose his apparent conflict of interest.
“Faleniu has admitted to receiving monetary gifts from Mr. Sharma. Whilst he has claimed that the monetary gift was personal, only. The Commission Delegate is of the opinion that it was too much of a coincidence for the following reasons.
“Both Faleniu and Mr Sharma are in the business of Maritime. Faleniu is the A.C.E.O. for the Maritime Division at the M.W.T.I. His responsibility is to advise the C.E.O. on all matters concerning Maritime including the RO and E.O.I. for the Registry for Vessel project.
i) “Mr. Sharma is the Director General for Ascent Navals Thailand, and International Company who had a real financial interest as an RO for Samoa, approved by the M.W.T.I. in 2016.
ii) Mr. Sharma is also the Deputy Commissioner and Registrar of an Authority called Samoa International Maritime Authority (“SIMA”) that was declared as fraud 2015.
iii) Faleniu has admitted to receiving monetary gift from Mr. Sharma over the years. He claimed to have received a total of $10,000.00 Tala.
iv)Both Faleniu and Ascent Navals Thailand entered into a partnership agreement to provide recruiting services for seafarers in Samoa.
v) In May 2018, both Faleniu and Mr. Sharma became directors of a company called Ascent Navals Register Samoa Limited (201806825).
vi) Mr. Sharma is the Director General for Ascent Navals Thailand, an International Company who had a real financial Interest as an RO for Samoa, approved by the MWTI in 2016. He is also a Deputy Commissioner and Registrar for an Authority called Samoa International Maritime Authority (“SIMA”) that was declined a fraud 2015.
c) While Faleniu has denied any benefit through his status as an A.C.E.O. for the Maritime Division, the surrounding facts speak otherwise.
The sixth and final charge against the A.C.E.O. alleges that he failed to comply with all lawful and reasonable directions given to them by persons who have authority to give those directions.
“Sometime in mid-2017, Faleniu instructed the former IT Principal for M.W.T.I. to upload a document which approved the complainant as an RO for Samoa. This was a clear disregard of the C.E.O’s direction to revoke the RO that was initially given to the complainant in 2016.”
A copy of the Ascent Navals registration with the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour shows that Fepulea’i is one of the Directors. The other Directors are Jaspreet Kaur and Suniel Kumar Sharma. All three of them own 200 shares each.