The pursuit for justice

Here’s a thought. All this talk about justice and the call from Prime Minister Tuilaepa for an Inquiry into the Land and Titles Court Judges instantly reminds us of events in the not too distant past. We want to talk about these events because to move forward, lessons and mistakes of the past cannot be ignored.

Now a few years ago, we said that if the pursuit for the truth and nothing but the truth is measured by the lengthy investigation over claims of corruption at Tafa’igata and the then Police Commissioner, the late Lilomaiava Fou Taialo, we have got to hand it to this government.

Not only did it appear that they had gone full throttle in their quest for justice, they also did not hold back in spending thousands of hard-earned taxpayer’s money in the pursuit of the so-called truth.

What with two Commissions of Inquiry, the suspension of the Commissioner on full pay and benefits for nearly a year, and his eventual sacking, it sure set a precedent. And let’s not forget there was also an Assistant Commissioner who had been suspended with full benefits until he decided to resign.

Whatever the cost, the government at the time did not mind. We said then that it sure determined to find the truth, get to the bottom of the mess and clean it up.

It was an admirable development. One we thought would have been the beginning of better things to come.

After all, don’t we believe that only the truth can set us free?

But there was a snag ladies and gentlemen, a point where the mind boggled and still does. If the government then spared no expense in the pursuit of the truth over the actions of one man, why didn’t it adopt the same attitude and fervor towards similar claims of corruption, mismanagement and collusion elsewhere?

Over the past years, the issues of corruption, abuse of power and mismanagement among others have constantly surfaced on the pages of this newspaper.  They are stories of austere corruption that have been permeating unstoppably throughout the public service which have yet to be addressed appropriately with the thought of reducing it, if not stopping it altogether.

Take for instance the issues raised by the Controller and Chief Auditor, Fuimaono Camillo Afele, in his report to Parliament for the periods ended 30 June 2010 and 30 June 2011. Fuimaono’s report revealed allegations of unbridled corruption that had apparently been perpetrated within certain government corporations over a number of years.

The report was referred to the Officers of Parliament Committee (O.P.C.), chaired by then Associate Minister Papali’i Niko Lee Hang to investigate. In the end, they backed and proven a number of allegations raised by Chief Auditor Fuimaono.

For instance, Papali’i pointed to example of “collusion to defraud public funds” involving a certain contractor and how payments were made.

“I have the contract here. The payments clearly violated some of the procedures, for example, the withholding tax,” Papali’i explained at the time.

Papali’i said the 10 per cent retention, which should have been withheld until 12 months had lapsed, was ignored.

“(The idea is that) if there are any defects in the building, that money will be used for those but (in this case) the retention was released, signed by the Minister before the work was completed and (by doing so it) violated the agreement that retention should be held for 12 months.”

Papali’i explained that the “damaging thing” was the approval for the release of the retention was done “using a fake insurance” as “a security for the funds released.”

“That is in our report and we have the documents,” he said. “The Minister signed the letter to the C.E.O, acknowledging the company’s request, with their submission of a fake insurance. It’s a bid security bond insurance but in the contract, it should be a performance insurance which they never paid.”

“And the contract always says that the performance security bond, if not executed and delivered to the principal before the scheduled date, then the principal is entitled to terminate the contract.”

Papali’i said the contract should have been terminated.

“What I’m saying regarding the retention is that not only that they violated the (terms) by releasing the retention fund, 10 per cent of the total contract price, before the building was completed, they also used a fake insurance to secure the funds that had been released.”

Papali’i pointed to two issues there. Firstly, he said there was a violation of the “agreement, which says you have to hold on to the retention until 12 months after completion of works then the 10 per cent retention should be released.”

“And given that the contractor provided a fake insurance... in providing a bid security insurance is just fraud because they never paid any premiums on it.”

“It was just for the sake of releasing the retention, they provided that security which I’m sure the Minister and C.E.O clearly understand that it wasn’t genuine insurance.”

“Now the building has been completed, there’s an inoperative elevator, which is the subject of another issue that was not properly handled because in the original contract, the bidder included in his bid price a lift (for) $180,000.”

“That was why the work was given to this contractor regardless. There was another contractor who bid less by 200K.

“But since this contractor had offered an elevator as well and bid $200,000 more, so the Minister directly submitted a submission to Cabinet.

“I was the Chairman of the Tenders Board, and I know very well.”

“In hindsight, now I understand why he prompted that bidding of the headquarters because of the timeframe... near election time.”

“And then in hindsight, I can understand now why he brought his submission as an urgent matter so Cabinet had to endorse it so the works will be done immediately.

“But all the works done were not within provisions or conditions of the agreement. I would say, it’s all corrupt. That’s why I’m saying they colluded – the Minister, C.E.O and the contractor to defraud public funds.”

Papali’i said he and the O.P.C have evidence to back up their claims.

“I have the things here signed by the Minister all ready for Court if required,” he said. “I can safely say that collusion to defraud public funds has been done.”

Which follows then that who is investigated and who is ignored? Who’s claims of “corrupt practises” warrant a suspension, lengthy inquiries and eventually a sacking and who’s corruption is rewarded and protected?

Let me remind here that the former Police Commissioner is no longer with us.

The poor man was humiliated, torn to pieces and he eventually passed away while a case he brought against the government for unfair dismissal was pending. It is likely that we will never hear the truth about what really happened.

Today, we have the government accusing the Judges of the Land and Titles Court with the call for an Inquiry. Fine. Do what you have to do.

But where is consistency when it comes to this government’s pursuit of justice? Which public servants are subjected to investigations, scrutiny and eventually sacked and which ones are allowed to get away with breaking the law and rewarded? Isn’t everyone supposed to be the same under the law? Or are there people who are above the law in Samoa?

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