Misuse of public funds behind Regulator charges: P.S.C.
The Public Service Commission has filed 11 charges against the Regulator, Lefaoali’i Unutoa Auelua-Fonoti, alleging she breached the Public Service Code of Conduct by misusing public resources.
A copy of the P.S.C. charge sheet, obtained by the Weekend Observer, says that the Regulator “failed to discharge [her] duties” such as the alleged misuse of public money to pay for a hotel room and dinner.
According to the P.S.C. charges on 9 June, 2019 the Regulator allegedly used approved funds from the Office of the Regulator (O.O.T.R.) to settle an invoice at the Tanoa Hotel for a friend’s room and dinner.
Lefaoali’i, who was suspended in February, and did not respond to extensive questions about the allegations.
The P.S.C. investigation centres on alleged breaches of sections 17 and 19 of the Public Service Act 2004.
The P.S.C. claims that O.O.T.R. funds were used to pay for a room and dinner. “You [are] instructed to note the said payment on the record as the Dinner with Regulator in American Samoa,” the document reads.
The payment is alleged to include alcoholic beverages valued at $90 tala and dinner for two valued at $58 tala.
“The O.O.T.R. continues to be at a loss of the said amount that was paid to the Hotel to settle [the] invoice 29335E.
“The accuracy and integrity of the O.O.T.R. records as to the purpose and nature of any payment from the O.O.T.R. funds or treasury funds are essential for accountability and audit purposes.”
The charge sheet dated 13 March, 2020 is endorsed by Maiavatele Timothy Fesili of the P.S.C.
When contacted by the Samoa Observer Lefaoali’i via telephone Lefaoali’i said:
“No comment, because the process is not yet finalized,” she said over the phone.”
She was also provided an extensive copy of the allegations via e-mail but declined to respond.
Charges against the top civil servant stem from a complaint filed by her Secretary, Fialupe Uelese, in May last year.
The P.S.C. also claims that the Regulator allegedly used O.O.T.R. funds to reimburse $55 to one of the staff.
Another charge alleges: “Lefaoali’i “misused the official time of the O.O.T.R.’s transport officer Edward Bell and office vehicles (aside from vehicle assigned to her) to pick up and drop off her children to school [and] tutorials,” the report reads.
Furthermore, the P.S.C. claims the Regulator instructed the O.O.T.R.’s Nightwatchman, Poleka Siaoaloa, to drop off her friends guests to the airport, in violation of the P.S.C. Code of Conduct.
According to the P.S.C. charges the Regulator “misused” the services of her Executive Secretary by sending her to check in on a family friend when he was in hospital.
Other charges allege that the Secretary would take the Regulator’s mother and son for medical check-ups.
The P.S.C. further claims the Secretary was instructed to purchase building supplies from Bluebird for Regulator and her friend. This is alleged to have occurred in August 2019.
“You instructed Mrs. Uelese to go to Mr. Kumar on two occasions for more discounts and unhappy with the total of discount; you instructed Mrs. Uelese to go directly to Fa’amausili Andrew Ah Liki and [asked] for further discounts,” the Commission’s report said.
The P.S.C. charge sheet claims that $500 cash was given to Mrs. Uelese for the Regulator: “Mrs. Uelese advised the Commission that she was embarrassed by the whole ordeal.”
The last charge against the Regulator includes allegations that she instructed two Assistant C.E.O.s, namely Fa’alelei Sua and Venus Iosefa (who are on suspension), to pressure the complaining Secretary to withdraw her complaint.
“As the Regulator it was (or appeared to have been) highly inappropriate to discharge your authority in such a manner,” the P.S.C. charge sheet alleges
“As not only you interfered with a person who was exercising her rights i.e. Mrs. Uelese you also [allegedly] exposed Ms. Sua and Mrs. Salanoa to possible disciplinary proceedings and compromised their position as potential witnesses to the Commission’s Disciplinary Proceedings against you.
“It is inappropriate for a respondent (or potential respondent) to a complaint, to instruct another employee, to pressure or influence the complainant of the said complaint to withdraw the same. This is more so inappropriate if the respondent is in a position of authority such as yourself.”
When this matter first came to light in December 2019, the Regulator vehemently refuted the allegations as “unfounded and defamatory”.
“I strongly deny the allegations and other false accusations made by the Secretary,” Lefaoali’i said in response to an email from the Samoa Observer requesting her comment at the time when the allegations surfaced.
“Her allegations on using the petty cash for personal purchases and utilising O.O.T.R. employees are very untrue hence why I deny it.
“The Secretary’s allegation has tarnished my good reputation that I have worked extremely hard to earn.”