It’s not our fault, Minister responds
The Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has made it quite clear.
All documents pertaining to a complaint by a businessman who has claimed wrongdoing in relation to import duty compliance have been referred to the Ombudsman’s Office.
Minister Tialavea revealed this in response to Manu Meredith’s claims against the Ministry of Revenue.
Mr. Meredith, the Owner of Le Well Company Ltd, has been corresponding with the Ministry of Revenue since 2015 over allegations about unfair practices involving liquor taxes and prices with the revenue office.
Earlier this year, Mr. Meredith had asked the Ombudsman’s Office for an investigation after numerous attempts for an explanation went unanswered for several months.
During a sit-down interview over the weekend, the Minister confirmed that the issue dates back to 2015. He said it started over a certain container where Mr. Meredith’s goods were released based on a wrong tariff number.
“The goods were released however following assessments of the invoices, our Customs officers found out the goods were released on wrong tariff numbers,” he said.
“And that is not our fault. Manu has his own agents who submit import invoices for the Customs as well as tariff numbers and the agents got it wrong.
“So we asked Manu to pay back the difference. We told him if he wants answers it should be from his agent, not the Customs officers.”
The Minister declined to go into details as to how much the tariff in question was noting that such information was confidential.
Regarding the lapse in the correspondence timing, Tialavea understands Mr. Meredith’s frustration.
“I agree with Manu there was a time when there was a huge cap in terms of responses from our office.
“He wrote in September  and our office finally responded in January the following year.
“His case is not the only entry we have to look at, hence the delays.”
According to the Minister, Manu “has a point with regards to the wrong tariffs.
“He lost money because we came to him and yet he already sold the goods on the wrong tariff numbers.... and again this is not our fault.
“He should get his reimbursement from his agents,” said the Minister.
The Minister said the government has nothing to hide.
“When I read Mata’afa’s editorial I demanded for the full file of the claims by Manu and this is what I found out.
“It’s not us who is at fault here... it’s his agent who submitted the wrong tariff entries hence the Customs charging his business the wrong tariff which was lower than what he should've paid.”
“That is why he was asked to pay the difference.”
The Minister added that his Office would welcome an investigation by the Ombudsman.
“I welcome an investigation by the Ombudsman, I want them to get to the bottom of this to clear the air and any misunderstanding about the matter,” said Tialavea.
As of last week, Mr, Meredith spoke out saying he is frustrated that the Ombudsman’s Office has yet to launch an investigation into his concerns.
“I can tell you that no investigation has been launched,” he said. “All I’ve had is just emails back and forth.... emails that was answered months or weeks at a time.” In February, Meredith wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman.
“We feel it is necessary that an external investigation should be made into these practices so that we feel we are being treated fairly and will not have to question the integrity of this very department,” Manu wrote.
That was at the beginning of the year.
“It has been six months since I submitted a formal complaint with a request for an investigation into the Customs directly to the Ombudsman,” Manu said last week.
“So far my plea for help is not getting anywhere. I don’t know who I can ask to look into this delicate yet important issue anymore.
“I had contacted the Ombudsman with the hope that they will act in accordance with their mandate... but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”