Transparency? Accountability? Maybe!

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The principle is simple. You will not understand until you ask. And so it goes that last week, Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, asked the Government to explain why an amount of up to U.S.$866,000 (T$2.2m) gained from fishing rights has not been included in the budget.

Olo claimed that the money comes from the Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) through the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.). 

“I have done my research and I’ve looked back at the budget from ten years ago there is nothing there. 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. He is absolutely correct.

Said he: “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. 

“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?”

Olo has a legitimate point; one he must be commended for raising. Oftentimes, Members of Parliament continue to sleep and rock on their chairs in the house when there are pertinent and legitimate questions that should be raised. 

Folks, when it comes to this issue, it’s fair to say that not many people had thought of it. Even many people in Government.

Which is why the startled response from the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, was not surprising. Surprised that the government’s little secret of the past 10 years had been unexpectedly exposed, he said Parliament was not the appropriate forum for the matter to be raised.

Really? Why not? Parliament after all is where Samoa’s laws and policies are formulated, based on the golden principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. 

If there is a place where answers should be demanded and given, it is Parliament. People after all have every right to know. It’s their money.

Now hindsight is a beautiful thing. And we are grateful that two days ago, Minister Lopao’o took the time to explain during an interview with your newspaper. For instance, he said the monies in question go directly to the Treasury Funds.

 “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,” he said.

In his response though, Lopao’o perhaps inadvertently gave rise to more questions in relation to the issue.  

 “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.” 

Lopao’o added that this is the first time the matter has been raised.

“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,” he assured.

Well that’s good to know. 

It will be interesting to see what the Ministry of Finance has to say about this.

But say if Minister Lopao’o had not raised the matter with the Ministry of Finance and that Olo had not raise it in Parliament, how has this money been classified and used in the past? 

Now we are talking about more than $2million tala a year. If it hasn’t been in the budget for more than 10 years as Olo claimed, what has this more than $20million been used for? 

And are there other similar funds we are not aware of? 

Stay tuned!

Have a wonderful Friday Samoa, God bless!

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