Chamber calls for Sunday ferry return, tax system postponed

The Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry is campaigning for more clarity and better communication from the Government on the state of emergency orders (S.O.E.), saying that businesses are struggling to deal with fast-changing regulations. 

The Chamber is also lobbying for the return of Sunday ferry services between Savai'i and Upolu, and a delay on further work on the new tax monitoring systems that are costing some businesses tens of thousands of talā to implement.

Chief Executive Officer, Lemauga Hobart Vaai, said the organisation is trying its hardest to help enterprises of all shapes and sizes contend with the constant changes to the state of emergency orders.

“Clear communication has been a challenge with the [state of emergency],” Lemauga said.

“We are now onto the 24th edition of the [state of emergency].

“Because Chamber is a cross-sectoral organisation and deals with businesses of all sizes, we have to adapt quickly to the different requests  and lobby for all different businesses  from all different sectors affected adversely by the [state of emergency].”

The Chamber is honing in its efforts on the Sunday ferry services and the Tax Invoice Monitoring System (T.I.M.S.) the Government’s latest initiative to better calculate and manage tax collection.

In a submission to the Government detailing how 40 per cent of surveyed businesses will be unable to implement the T.I.M.S. on time, the private sector group begged for time and a tax-refund on the cost of getting T.I.M.S. compliant.

But their submission went unheeded, with the Ministry of Customs and Revenue now waiting on its second batch of businesses to be fully compliant by October.

In response, the Chamber is gathering responses for a second survey, and is accepting submissions until Monday 17 August.

“T.I.M.S. continues to be a huge issue with [the] private sector and we are conducting an impact survey as businesses in Group 2 are now seeking our assistance,” Lemauga said. Group 2 are the second batch of businesses whose compliance deadline is in October.

At the beginning of the state of emergency in late March, the interisland ferry service was reduced to just Sunday, Wednesdays and Fridays. In mid-April the schedule nearly returned to normal, with the exception of Sunday travel.

As well as the Chamber membership, the tourism group the Samoa Hotels Association (S.H.A.) has been pleading with the Government to end the Sunday ferry ban.

In July, President Tupai Saleimoa Vaai said the ferry ban is damaging the tourism industry’s efforts to capture a domestic market in the absence of international tourists.

Hotels, beach fales and attractions have all dropped their prices to attract local guests, but S.H.A. fears Upolu guests will not come without a convenient ferry service.

“This ferry in operation will greatly assist our tourism operations and business community in Savaii,” Chamber C.E.O. Lemauga said.

Last week, the Samoa Observer reported a senior lawyer, who wished to remain unnamed, believes the Government could face legal challenges over state of emergency rules that do not relate to protecting Samoa from COVID-19.

They said that if challenged, some orders could be found unconstitutional and the Government might be ordered to pay damages to the claimants.

Lemauga said he hopes the lawyer will connect with the Chamber to talk about options for the private sector.

“We haven’t seen any information or submission from any lawyers in regards to a constitutional challenge,” he said. “It will be good for the lawyer to come to dialogue with the Chamber.”

Meanwhile, the group goes to the National Emergency Operations Centre frequently to seek guidance and clarity on what is, and is not permitted under the state of emergency orders.

Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury School of Health Sciences, Professor Arindam Basu said in the absence of any COVID-19 cases in Samoa, the nation’s best defenses are contact tracing measures and community testing.

“Community testing and random testing will help to intercept cases,” he said.

“Also, encourage people to adopt safe practices [like] cough and sneeze hygiene, mask use and distance maintenance. The testing of supermarkets and cold-storage is important.”


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