Customs agent suspended over generator controversy
A Customs Agent has been suspended over alleged irregularities in paperwork he prepared to import a generator for a Member of Parliament, one which is already the subject of a Parliamentary investigation.
“I can confirm that a Customs Agent has been suspended regarding the [imported] generator. That is all I can say,” said Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
The generator in question belongs to Member of Parliament for Gagaemauga No 3., La’auli Leuatea Polataivao, and was at the center of a debate in Parliament last month about Government expenditure in the first supplementary budget for financial year 2019-2020.
La’auli first drew attention to his generator when he criticised the Government's planned spending of $300,000 on a standby generator for the Tanumalala Prison facility.
La’auli told Parliament he had recently bought a generator of his own for personal use and of similar size to that which had been budgeted for for the prison that had only cost $72,000.
He queried Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee if they had looked into the costs for the generator, saying the country needs to save money. (The Ministry maintained the $300,000 quote was the lowest of three bids for the generator project).
But the M.P.'s questions drew a swift rebuke from the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, who moved a motion requiring the M.P. to provide paper work to back up his claims to the Finance Committee for an investigation.
On the question of the suspended customs agent, the Minister referred all further questions about the particulars of the alleged irregularities to Commissioner of Customs and Revenue, Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautua'alii.
Matafeo declined to comment when contacted by this newspaper.
“I can only confirm the suspension, but I will not provide further comments in case it jeopardizes our investigation," she said.
Meanwhile, while Laauli submitted the documents to Parliament within the 48-hour deadline imposed by the Prime Minister, the matter is far from resolved.
On Friday, the Finance and Expenditure Committee Chairperson, Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tu’uau, told the Samoa Observer their investigation is not yet completed.
The Samoa Observer contacted Laauli for comments, pertaining to the suspension of the Customs Agent, but he declined.
“My integrity is being questioned,” La’auli told Parliament when the cost of his generator was first raised.
But Tuilaepa interjected to say that the Government was not led by fools and it was the proper place of the Finance Committee to investigate whether the Government was receiving value for money.