The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, has responded to correct claims raised by Salega East Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, regarding the non-disclosure of international fisheries revenues.
Olo had questioned the Government on the whereabouts of the revenues he claimed comes from the Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) to the tune of US$866,000 (T$2.2 m) a year.
In Parliament, he demanded to know why the revenue was not included in the 2018-2019 budget.
During an interview with Lopao’o yesterday, he said corrections were in order. He explained that the dividends from foreign owned fishing boats fishing in the Pacific Ocean high sea are transferred into Samoa’s treasury funds.
“First, the money is not from the Foreign Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) for the fishing vessels fishing in our E.E.Z,” Lopao’o said.
“The money is Samoa’s share of the American funds for fishing in the Pacific Ocean high sea, which is beyond the E.E.Z. So every country of the Pacific gets a share of that money and Samoa’s share is US$866,000."
“The money is coming into Samoa and it’s actually going into treasury funds but the reason the issue has come up is because we raised the question when we put it into our budget for the new financial year. But definitely the money is going into treasury funds because every time the T.T. comes, I am copied.”
According to Lopao’o, Samoa’s dividends from the American funds for fishing in the Pacific high ocean come through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being transferred into the treasury account.
Asked why there has been no disclosure of the shares in the budget for the past 10 years as Olo queried in Parliament, Lopao’o replied the issue had never been raised before.
It is only now by his Ministry has raised the matter because they believe the revenues collected from fisheries should appear in their income.
“Nobody raised it before from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries,” he said. “But when I got to this Ministry, I said this is income pertaining to M.A.F. and it should rightly so be appearing in our income."
“Why my Ministry raised it was because we needed to treat this fund exactly the same way the air space money was being treated because it comes under the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure.”
As the M.A.F. looks for this next financial year, Lopao’o says the funds should come in as revenue for M.A.F. as airspace money is to the M.W.T.I.
Furthermore, he explained this income would supplement their allocated budget, especially as they are looking to tighten the belt on expenditure particularly in the area of international travel.
Lopao’o added more emphasis will be made on looking inward with domestic travel and transport to ensure people in his Ministry are more visible on the ground to respond and assist our people in Samoa.
“Every year we go to meetings and trainings overseas,” he said.
“We have people serving in F.A.A. committees throughout the year and we spend quite a bit of money attending these conferences."
“In fact, I am leaving this week for Rarotonga to attend the Forum Fisheries meeting and we had to spend quite a bit of money to get there and go to these meetings. So naturally, we believe the funds should be allocated to meet our obligations within the F.F.A. and it should be credited as part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries income.”
Asked why he believed that Parliament was not the right forum for the matter to be raised, Lopao’o said this is the first time the issue had been raised and the fisheries revenue had been removed from the budget until discussions have been had, pending a final decision for the next financial year.
“The reason I said that this may not be the right forum is because there are still some discussions ongoing with the Ministry of Finance. It’s not that the M.O.F. has ruled against it. It’s just that this is the first time it’s been brought to their attention."
“We will have consultations with the Minister of Finance and his Ministry about this issue so that it can be dealt with and be given some finality before the next financial year 2019-2020 because it’s too late to do that now.”
Lopao’o indicated they will continue to pursue their request with the Ministry of Finance.
“It has nothing to do with the money going into someone’s account, but it has everything to do with us asking if from now on the money could appear in the M.A.F. income statements instead of going into treasury funds."
“We are working right throughout the year to make sure that this money keeps coming in. I’m sure the M.O.F. understands that but there are probably some procedures that need to be followed and as I said in Parliament, it’s not the end of the discussion and we are continuing this with the M.O.F.”