The Government has been asked to explain why an amount of up to U.S.$866,000 (T$2.2m) gained from fishing licenses has not been included in the budget.
The question was raised by Salega East Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, in Parliament during the deliberation and passing of the 2018/2019 Budget.
According to Olo, the money comes from the Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.). It is a fee for allowing foreign-owned fishing boats to fish in Samoa’s Exclusive Economic Zone (E.E.Z.).
“I have done my research and I’ve looked back at the budget from ten years ago there is nothing there,” Olo told the Samoa Observer.
“This money has not been disclosed in the budget from previous years and that really concerns me. So the biggest question is where is this money?”
In Parliament, Olo argued that members of the public have the right to demand an explanation.
“I see that the money we get from the airspace which is N.Z.$500,000 (T$887,383.03) is being disclosed in the budget of the Ministry of Works, Transportation and Infrastructure,” he said.
“But the money from Fisheries is not being disclosed in the budget and the question is why? And if it’s not disclosed here in the budget that’s being debated now, then whose account is this money going into?”
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, in response said Parliament is not the appropriate forum for the matter to be raised.
“With regards to the money from the Forum Fisheries Agency questioned by a Member of Parliament, at the moment we are still in discussion with the Ministry of Finance with regards to this matter,” said Lopao’o.
“We did put it inside the budget 2018/2019 however the Ministry told us to take it out and that’s why it’s not in the budget. So we are still discussing the matter with the Ministry at the moment.”
But Olo is not satisfied.
During an interview with Samoa Observer outside Parliament, Olo said the Government needs to answer and tell the country where this money goes.
“I’m talking about the money that we get from the Forum Fisheries Agency through the Ministry of Fisheries for allowing fishing boats to fish in our oceans,” he said.
“These fishing boats from Japan, China and so forth they have to register through the U.S. Treaty in America in order for them to be allowed in the Pacific Ocean. So every year the U.S. Treaty gives out dividends to the Pacific Island Countries and that’s where Samoa gets this U.S.$866,000 from.
“It is a similar concept to the money we get for the use of our airspace. You see, we get money from the New Zealand Airways Corporation when an airplane crosses the Samoa air space and they charge that airline for it.
“So every year Samoa gets NZ$500,000 (T$ 887,383.03) from the NZ Airways Corporation.”
Olo said transparency and accountability must be shown in this matter.
“The concern that I had raised in Parliament is that the Ministry is only disclosing the money that we get from our air space which is under the budget of the M.W.T.I.
“Keep in mind that whatever money the government gets from loans, grants or local incomes such as taxes and so forth, all that is disclosed in the government’s revenues when the budget is presented.
“The idea is that this gives us a real picture of income and expenditure. This is why I asked the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries about this.
“Now instead of addressing the question, he said Parliament is not the forum that this issue should be discussed at.”
Olo said the Minister’s response is disappointing.
“I was really sad about the Minister’s response. What does he mean by ‘this is not the forum’ to discuss this matter? So if it’s not this forum, then which forum?
“And I told them that they should’ve disclosed this and tell us where the money went because the people have the right to know. This money belongs to them.”
Olo said they did not answer his question.