Conflicts, containers, tipping and bribery in paradise

Visibility is not hard in this paradise we call home. 

Samoa, being a small place, it’s difficult to escape if you are a prominent person or someone of importance to members of the public. It’s just the way it is.

The Minister of Revenue and Prisons, Tionisio John Hunt, is one such person. 

It’s fair to say he has been extremely visible this year. From the unpopular government decision to tax church ministers and the Head of State, which created an uproar to now, he has been making all the headlines.

Take for instance, last month, he was queried about a perceived conflict in the contract to build the new multi-million-tala Tafaigata Prison. 

Speaking to the Sunday Samoan then, the Minister of Prisons admitted that the perceived conflict of interest had been questioned by the Tenders Board, but all has been resolved now.

 “The delay in the Tenders Board decision was due to an investigation they launched against me and I welcomed their investigation,” Tialavea told the Sunday Samoan. 

“I have nothing to hide so they asked for additional information from my brother and that was provided. I must say, my brother is a certified contractor in New Zealand and Samoa.

“So the Tenders Board cleared me of any conflict of interest and they awarded the contract to my brother. There were two lower bidders than my brother but they were not qualified for some reason and so they awarded my brother.”

Well, that was two weeks ago.

Last Sunday, the Minister appeared again on the front page. This time wearing his hat as the Minister of Revenue and talking about the government’s decision to confiscate a container allegedly smuggled into the country using falsified documents. 

According to the Minister, the container belongs to a businessman running a furniture store and he is now the subject of a full-blown customs investigation.

According to Tialavea, the internal investigation will determine if there was collusion in the matter. He said the government has zero tolerance for this type of activity. 

 “We have a huge role to play in terms of revenue collection and if there was any collusion or bypassing tax obligations then someone will lose their job,” he said. “I will not stop there, that person(s) will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” 

The Minister also pointed out the matter is clear “breach of trust.”

 “And this businessman has abused the system that was created for the releasing of operations to run smoothly. I know we will be highly criticised by this incident for our Green Lane list, but this does not mean we will suspend this system,” he said. “It’s working as the businesses prepay their shipments and the companies get their containers right away.”

The Minister has a point. Let’s await the outcome of the investigation. We hope the Minister will keep us informed about what will be done to ensure this does not happen again. 

In the meantime, the Minister just can’t seem to help himself, so yesterday, he was in the headlines  again, in a story titled: “Tips yes, but no to bribery.” 

In the story, the Minister defended customs officers who accept tips from members of the public.

“There is a fine line between bribery and tips,” he told the Samoa Observer. 

“And I, for one, have no problem with customs officers taking tips from people. I don’t think there is anything wrong with receiving a tip.”

Now according to the Minister, customs officers are well educated about the difference between tipping and being bribed. This, he said, is part of their training.

The Minister then goes on to educate members of the public about the difference between tipping and bribery.

“Tips follow the rendering of a service, whereas bribes precede it,” he said. 

“Accepting bribery is corruption and that will not happen under my watch.

 “The timing of the payment is critical and tips are determined after the service is provided. And tips can be adjusted depending on the service given by the customs office.”

He then gave an example. 

“If I come in to clear my container and I give you a $100 before, that is bribery. 

“But if I give you money after I am satisfied with your service and your friendliness, that is tipping. I give you $20, why would you not accept it? There is a big difference.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the staff whether to accept the tip, or not. I cannot ask them not to accept tips because no matter what I tell them they will take the tips. 

“It’s a waste of time to implement a stop tipping policy, no one will heed or consider that regulation. Also declining a tip is rude and in our Samoan culture, it’s unacceptable for you not to take a tip.”

And how would the Minister know what it feels like to struggle with receiving a tip?

 “Even I get tips,” he said. “I end up giving it to my staff for their coffee or tea, so you see, there is nothing wrong with tips.”

Lastly, he said no one is perfect. 

“I know there are those businesses who attempt to pay their containers to my staff directly, but the time will come when that will be dealt with as nothing is hidden under this sun.”

Well you are absolutely correct Mr Minister; nothing ever remains hidden forever under the sun  --  especially in small Samoa. 

What do you think? 

Have a fabulous Friday, Samoa, God bless!

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