Minister defends overseas shares
A Minister has defended holding shares in a New Zealand lending and financing company, despite a policy preventing members of Cabinet from having business interests.
The Minister for Works Transport and Infrastructure, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, strongly defends being a shareholder in the overseas company: Samoa NZ Finance Company Limited based in Manukau New Zealand.
Company searches by the Samoa Observer have revealed that Papali’i’s holdings include an equity stake, in his name, of slightly less than five per cent in the company.
The company's website has recently been taken down.
But an archived copy shows it offered personal and automobile loan and financing packages at advertised interest rates of 25 per cent per annum for personal and debt consolidation loans; vehicle loans were advertised at between 14-19 per cent per annum.
Other shareholders include Aukusitino Lucky Westerlund (16.9 per cent); Mikaele Charles Westerlund (16.9 per cent); Andrew Ah Liki (15 per cent); and Rudolf Ott (10.9 per cent).
"We provide personal loans for those unexpected expenses or life events we call ‘faalavelave’," the company's website read.
The Minister is also one of the two major shareholders for Lee Hang Enterprises Limited which consists of a Supermarket and Gas Station located in Vailima.
“Those shares [in the overseas company] belong to the [Lee Hang Enterprises Limited] Company,” he said.
“[That is a] company that belongs to my family that was established long before, I entered Parliament.”
Samoa NZFinance Company Limited was registered on 2 Oct 2014.
The Minister owns 438,000 shares with the overseas company, which is composed of a total of about 9.2 million shares.
In the past, the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, had noted there is a standing policy that Cabinet Ministers should not be involved in businesses and they are to offload their shares to family members.
“I have been in business for a long time. I have been a public servant for almost forty years; and I started my company when I was working as a public servant and it wasn’t until 15 later I went into Parliament,” Papali’i said.
“There is no logic to change my company only for that reason and I know very well the Government will not be in any way affected by my business it’s just a store. Unlike contractors, which is different.”
According to Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) records, Papali’i is one of the two major shareholders with the Lee Hang Enterprises Limited which consist of him and his family.
Documents say Papali’i owns shares in the amount of 78,000.
“It does not make any sense that I will have to give up [my business] because I am in Parliament,” he said.
“As long as I know what I am doing do not affect the Government in any way, my conscience is clear and I can sleep at night.”
When asked why he should not be subject to the current policy banning Ministers from being in business, he said it was designed to prevent Ministers’ interests coinciding with Government business.
“And I am talking about contractors and construction companies; those Ministers should relinquish their ties. There should be policies to reflect the types of businesses that Ministers should be affiliated with and like I said, my business is a store,” he said.