Bittersweet ending to $121,000 contract saga

Two weeks ago, a story titled “C.E.O. defends $121,000 six months contract” appeared on the front page of the Samoa Observer. 

$121,000 tala for six months? Now that’s a lot of money in Samoa for such a short period of time, which is perhaps why the story naturally attracted a lot of attention.

The contract in question had been signed by the former Chief Executive Officer of the Land Transport Authority (L.T.A.), Leasi John Galuvao, with his old work place. 

In confirming the contract, the current Chief Executive Officer, Galumalemana Taatialeoitiiti Tutuvanu-Schwalger, denied any wrongdoing. 

She instead explained that the hiring of Leasi was important, due to capacity issues within the Authority so they can deal with a significant amount of work that needs to get done – including works for the Pacific Games to be completed before July.

Other pressing projects included the Vaisigano Bridge, West Coast Road, construction of the Loto Samasoni crossing, construction of the Maliolio Bridge and other critical road maintenance. 

“To ensure any project delays are minimized, we have been forced to outsource some of our current operational work, until such a time when we will have finalised our recruitment processes and filled some of our vacancies within our technical divisions,” Galumalemana said.

 “To avoid discontinuity in works and ensure that our road works meet set deadlines, the L.T.A. have been hugely fortunate to acquire the services of Leasi Galuvao. As a consultant, Leasi will assist the L.T.A’s technical Divisions over the next few months on a periodic basis but not as a permanent employee of L.T.A.”

What’s important to note is that from the start, Leasi said this was not a contract he went looking for. 

“The Board and the C.E.O. reached out to me for assistance,” he said. 

From Galumalemana and Leasi, it sounded pretty straight forward, didn’t it? 

Except it wasn’t.

Now enter the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, who is also responsible for L.T.A. During an interview with the Samoa Observer, Papali’i did not mince words when he confirmed that the procurement process was not followed.

 According to the Minister, he was not aware of the decision and that it had only been brought to his attention after the contract had been signed.

“The Prime Minister questioned me about it and I had to explain to Cabinet that I was not aware of it – it was a decision made by the current C.E.O,” said Papali’i. 

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“So the Prime Minister wanted me to ask the Attorney General of a way to have it cancelled but to me it is already signed and both parties have agreed. It would be another civil case at Court for us.”

From here onwards though, this little episode becomes even more interesting. We say this because the Minister goes on to say that the decision made by L.T.A. C.E.O. Galumalemana and the Board Chairperson to award Leasi the contract was “within their jurisdiction.” 

“The Board has the discretion to hire people in their authority with that (procurement) amount of less than $200,000,” the Minister explained. “Any amount above whether its procurement or equipment it has to come through Tenders Board.” 

“But the problem was they made a direct appointment of Leasi first of all without my knowledge and should have discussed with me the need of this consultant.”

“If she (C.E.O.) discussed this with me, I would have told them to tender it and go through the procurement process even if it’s under their jurisdiction to hire a person but the government process should be followed.” 

“There are a lot of other civil engineers that wished to apply and we can evaluate from the tender who is cheaper and go from there.”

“Yes we need civil Engineers (for work) but we also cannot bypass the procurement process and no Ministry or government agency is exempt from this.”

Well the Minister has a valid point. There is a reason these processes have been put in place. They are to ensure transparency; accountability and that the principles of good governance are observed.

There is a bittersweet ending to this little saga though. Two days ago, another story revealed that the former L.T.A. Chief Executive Officer Leasi has decided to walk away from the contract.

Leasi, who was in New Zealand, said: “I have no comment, please contact the L.T.A. Chief Executive Officer.”

C.E.O. Galumalemana, when contacted, said: “At this point in time, I can neither confirm nor deny therefore I have no comment.”

Well someone should tell the public what is going on. 

That said, we cannot help but feel for all the people involved in this matter. 

Sure there were flaws in the procurement process, but in a country where we’ve seen worse cases of abuse of power and instances of wrong doing, especially in the handling of some of these contracts, we can only hope that this is the start of a new chapter where the awarding of such contracts are handled with a lot more care and diligence. 

Come to think of it, while the amount of $121,000 sounds pretty significant, it’s peanuts compared to other multi-million-tala contracts we’ve seen handed out in this country under deals that cannot be called anything  else but suspicious and corrupt at worst. What do you think? 

Write and share your thoughts with us!

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

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