Business cries foul

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu 28 June 2017, 12:00AM

A local businessman, Manu Meredith, has called on the Ombudsman to investigate the Ministry of Revenue over “practices regarding import and duty compliance.” 

The call is revealed in a letter dated 13 February 2017 to the Ombudsman obtained by the Samoa Observer. 

The call from the Owner of Le Well follows efforts to resolve the concerns about alleged unfair practices involving liquor taxes and prices within the Ministry in question.

The letter obtained by the Samoa Observer indicates that the correspondence between Le Well Company Limited and Ministry of Revenue-Customs Department have been going on for more than a year.

“We believe there are Customs officers that purposely overlook the correct quantities on certain alcoholic beverages orders by some of our local competitors, in order for those companies to pay less than the required duties, thereby making the retail prices lower than they should be,” the letter reads. 

Mr. Meredith  claims that he has written to the Customs Department C.E.O Avalisa Viali-Fautua'alii many times.

 “Only to be told that she would do an internal investigation." 

“However, we feel it is also necessary that an external investigation should be made into these practices so that we feel we are being treated fairly and will not have to questions the integrity of this very department.” 

Correspondence that started in late 2015 between Mr. Meredith and the Customs C.E.O were also obtained by Samoa Observer. 

In November last year for example, Mr. Meredith wrote to Avalisa Fautua'alii about the issue of “fair competition.”  

“The intent of my communications with your department is reassurance that there is fair competition across all suppliers of liquor imported as well as produced locally,” the letter reads. 

Mr. Meredith pointed out to the C.E.O that “local spirits with 30% over alcohol content should have a tax of $19.96 per liter plus 15% V.A.G.S.T [Value Added Goods and Services Tax] (not including labor, materials and profit etc).” 

He said the selling prices for liquor 1liter claiming to have 45% alcohol content is $21.00 including V.A.G.S.T. 

According to Mr. Meredith, the prices they have researched assumes these local liquor products have less than 30% alcohol content, then the pricing would be in line with local tax requirements. 

He also directed the C.E.O to a local wholesale who has been selling wine reportedly from Europe yet the local price “is very cheap for European improved wines." 

“I do not want to assume that your office or some officers are overlooking these matters but I want to be reassured the competition from local businesses are all treated fairly,” said Meredith.” 

In response to Mr. Meredith, an email dated 17 November 2017 from the C.E.O said Customs was “under no obligation to report to you on whatever findings we may have." 

 “We will deal direct with the company if any such issue is noted or found to be happening.”

Contacted for a comment, Mr. Meredith refused to speak to the Samoa Observer on the record.

Emails sent to the C.E.O of the Ministry of Revenue and the Office of the Ombudsman were not responded to at press time.

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu 28 June 2017, 12:00AM

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