What do Mr. Meredith’s concerns and inaction from relevant government bodies tell us?

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 04 August 2017, 12:00AM

How far does one have to go in this country to get justice? Or how high up the ranking does one have to scale to even get noticed in the pursuit for such an ideal? 

Some of us might say all the way to almighty Prime Minister. Maybe. 

But what happens when even that doesn’t satisfy? 

Will it be fair then to assume that unless you have the right connections, justice becomes just a pipe dream for many, especially ordinary members of the public who feel aggrieved and have been treated unfairly for one reason or another.

We say this because there is an eerily uncomfortable feeling that judging by some of the recent developments in this country, some people can no longer be bothered fighting for truth and justice. 

You can’t blame them. They have become tired of what appears to be the legitimising of wrongdoing and at worst the toleration of abuse that they just give up and hope somewhere, somehow things will change for the better. 

Indeed, it almost seems we’ve become totally deaf and blinded to instances of wrongdoing that they have become part and parcel of life so we just accept it as normal. What a sorry state of affairs we have!

Today, we want to remind that the plight of local businessman, Manu Meredith, is one worth thinking about. Two months ago, we revealed that Mr. Meredith had called on the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, to investigate the Ministry of Revenue over “practices regarding import and duty compliance” in relation to liquor sales. 

The Owner of Le Well claims there is something very wrong with how the Ministry is treating some of his competitors – especially certain foreigners doing business in Samoa.

“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. 

All Mr. Meredith wants is fairness.

“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”.

Mr. Meredith pointed out that “local spirits with 30% over alcohol content should have a tax of $19.96 per litre 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 1litre claiming to have 45% alcohol content is $21.00 including V.A.G.S.T. 

According to Mr. Meredith, these 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 Mr. Meredith.

Fed up with waiting for answers from the Ministry of Revenue, Mr. Meredith has gone one step further and asked the Ombudsman for an investigation.

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

That was at the beginning of the year. Today, Mr. Meredith is a very sad man.

 “As of yesterday, I can tell you that no investigation has been launched,” he said. “It has been six months since I submitted a formal complaint with a request for an investigation into the Customs directly to the Ombudsman.

“So far my plea for help is not getting anywhere. I don’t know who I can ask to look into this delicate yet important issue anymore. 

“I had contacted the Ombudsman with the hope that they will act in accordance with their mandate... but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”

Keep in mind that there are always two sides to a story. So since 26 June 2017, the Samoa Observer has been sending emails to the Ombudsman’s office to follow up on the progress of Mr. Meredith’s complaint. 

The Samoa Observer met with Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, who referred the inquiries to Deputy Ombudsman, Maualaivao. When the Samoa Observer finally tracked down Maualaivao, he said the issue is confidential and he cannot discuss it. He told the Samoa Observer to go back to Mr. Meredith to ask for an update.

 “Or maybe you [reporter] can go and investigate his claim,” he said. “Everything pertaining to this matter is confidential.” 

But that’s not good enough for Manu who said he is tired of being given the run around. Now he said he would seek an appointment with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to further raise his concerns.

“I have evidence that was submitted directly to Customs and to the Ombudsman about what I uncovered,” he said. 

In the absence of a firm response from the Office of the Ombudsman, we want to ask why does it appear that it is dragging its feet on this matter? 

What issues are they quick to investigate and what do they turn a blind eye to?

And what does the Deputy Ombudsman mean by telling the Samoa Observer reporter to go and investigate herself? Isn’t that what his office exists to do? Aren’t they paid by taxpayers’ monies to look into complaints from members of the public? 

Now what does Mr. Meredith need to do to get his concerns looked at seriously?

Let me remind our readers once more about why we believe Mr. Meredith’s concerns are legitimate. 

Aside from the fact that these are extremely serious allegations, we are potentially talking about thousands of lost government revenues if what Mr. Meredith claims is indeed true. In other words, this case is more than just business competition. It’s about transparency, accountability and addressing the potential of corruption in the system that gives people unfair advantage over others.

After all, during the past few months, the Ministry of Revenue has been hammering the point that everyone has to pay their fair share of taxes. Even Church Ministers and the Head of State now are no longer exempt.

It’s a shame, however, to think that some people – including foreigners – are taking advantage of loopholes in the system, which the government appears quite happy to ignore, judging by the inaction of the relevant government authorities on Mr. Meredith’s concerns.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us!

Have a fantastic Friday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 04 August 2017, 12:00AM

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