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Cabinet to decide on Regulator future today

The Cabinet will decide later today whether to sack one of the country’s most senior civil servants, the national Regulator,  Lefaoali’i Unutoa Auelua-Fonoti after receiving a recommendation to do so. 

Lefaoali’i is alleged to have violated the Public Service Code of Conduct for Chief Executive Officers by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.). 

Cabinet is to convene on Wednesday to vote on whether to follow a recommendation from the Commission to terminate her services. 

“Based on the breach of the terms and conditions the Commission recommends the termination of the contract of employment forthwith,” the Commission wrote in a report first presented to the Cabinet last week.

The alleged breaches are outlined in a confidential submission endorsed by Commission Member - Lauano Vaosa Epa - a copy of which was obtained by the Samoa Observer. 

The recommendation stems from an official complaint filed by the Regulator’s Secretary, Fialupe Uelese, of mistreatment and that Lefaoali’i allegedly abused her authority.

Lefaoali’i declined to comment when contacted by the Samoa Observer over the phone on Tuesday.

A first charge sheet was served to Lefaoali’i on 20 March and additional charges were filed on 30 March 2020.

The Samoa Observer reported on the first charge sheet; however, additional charges have been added in relation to “inappropriate” comments against P.S.C. personnel and the Minister of Communication and Information Technology; and of breaching of her suspension order, says the P.S.C.

The P.S.C. in its 14 page submission says a total of 14 P.S.C. charges were filed against the Regulator. 

The P.S.C. alleges that Lefaoali’i admitted to misusing her authority when instructing the  Office of the Regulator (O.O.T.R.) staff to pick up her friend’s guests at the airport; as well as picking up her children. She further admitted that she mistreated Fialupe but it only happened once.

The P.S.C. noted they “accept Lefaoalii’s admission but disagree that it only happened once.”

The Commission found a charge the Secretary was instructed to purchase building supplies from Bluebird could not be substantiated.

Of the other P.S.C. charges, proven on the balance of probabilities, one relates to “misuse of authority” and funds to pay for an invoice - 29335E - from Tanoa Tusitala Hotel for a room and dinner, processed in 2017 but paid for in 2019. 

According to the P.S.C. submission Lefaoali'i alleged that it was a “thank you dinner” for an American Samoan counterpart.

However P.S.C. noted there is no evidence to support Lefaoalii’s claims that her American Samoan counterpart had assisted the O.O.T.R.

“Therefore we found it difficult to justify the payment of Invoice 29355E as a thank you dinner,” says P.S.C.

The P.S.C. concluded about the whole dinner affair: “Even if there was such an authority the timing of the actual payment on 4 June, 2019 for something alleged to have occurred in 2017 was improper. To allow such actions and decision making could create uncertainty and inconsistencies in audit and financial reporting after every financial year, inter alia.”

According to the P.S.C. the Regulator allegedly instructed two Assistant C.E.O.s, namely Fa’alelei Sua and Venus Iosefa (who are currently on suspension), to pressure the complainant in the case to withdraw her objections. 

“As the Regulator it was (or appeared to have been) highly inappropriate to discharge your authority in such a manner,” the report said. 

“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.”

The submission notes that Lefaoalii allegedly retorted back about the P.S.C.: “[It] sucks up to the Government; undermines the integrity and authority of the Commission let alone [its] policies and procedures put in place to protect the Government’s asset and funds including leave entitlements from abuse.”

The P.S.C. further says there were also allegations the Regulator made comments alluding that Minister Afamasaga “has something to gain as a result of the P.S.C. disciplinary proceedings against her.”

“This type of behavior from a C.E.O. of the Public Service is both disrespectful and highly inappropriate as it invites unwarranted speculations and exposes the Honorable Minister to arbitrary or niggardly assessments,” says the P.S.C.

The P.S.C. also noted that Lefaoalii breached her suspension order by continuing to communicate with staff of O.O.T.R.

According to the submission, the Regulator submitted that she be given another opportunity to complete her contract which is due the end of 2021 on the grounds; of “long and good working history within the office”; “outstanding projects”; and because “her actions of misconduct were not in any way intended to undermine the importance and reputation of the Office of the Regulator nor in any way purposely dishonest.”

The P.S.C. says that in 2013 Lefaoali’i was cautioned and reprimanded by the Commission for failing to use official information for official purposes only; and in 2019 it’s alleged that she “used [profane] language” towards the General Manager of TV3 and in turn she was ordered to write an apology letter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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