Weighty matters indeed
The Prime Minister apparently thinks this newspaper has been thin of late.
For which, we can only say we are flattered by Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi’s interest in our health.
But we might also add the observation that it was only three months ago that he was offering a different critique of our appearance when dismissing a story about the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, calling for an inquiry into the measles epidemic that led to 83 deaths.
“I’m assuming [it is] that fat pretty reporter from the Samoa Observer that’s encouraging him,” the Prime Minister said in a state-owned media radio broadcast.
The Prime Minister’s interest in our physique might be new.
But insults about our coverage, issued by Tuilaepa and his top officials, have long since been received nonchalantly by this newspaper.
Indeed, we are always more than happy to share them with our readers, as we did in Friday’s edition on pages two (“Leausa defends COVID-19 plan, hits out at Samoa Observer”) and three (“Samoa Observer publishing erroneous news: P.M.”).
Let’s turn to the latter,
We must ask the Prime Minister what was erroneous about our report that the Samoa International Finance Authority’s (S.I.F.A.) bottom line was being hurt by Samoa’s inclusion on an international money laundering blacklist by the European Union?
It is no secret that Samoa is on a very short list of twelve international jurisdictions that have been blacklisted by the European Union as a “non cooperative” jurisdiction for the purposes of taxation policies.
We have been named on this list alongside jurisdictions such as Panama and the Cayman Islands.
These facts have not changed, despite the blacklist being reviewed by the European Union on a twice-yearly basis.
As to how we could have come to be tarred with the tax evasion brush, well that story is well known by now.
The Official Journal of the European Union told the story last year: Samoa’s Ambassador in Brussels is alleged by the E.U. to have made, in a 2017 letter, a promise Tuilaepa’s Government never kept: namely, to help it crack down on companies moving profits offshore.
Following the Journal’s publication of the letter, our attempts to seek the Government’s side of the story were not met with a response.
But the Prime Minister had, in May of 2019, dismissed news of the blacklisting out of hand.
“The EU is not really fond of our tax strategies to attract businesses from overseas to invest in Samoa, and therefore they want to shut down S.I.F.A.,” Tuilaepa said.
“They claim Samoa is not in compliance with E.U. policies,” he said, adding that this was “ridiculous”.
“How could we close it (S.I.F.A.) down when we get up to $40 million from it?”
Is it much of a surprise, then, that angering the second largest economy in the world (collectively) it would hurt the attempts by the S.I.F.A. to attract international businesses to incorporate in Samoa?
Not according to the S.I.F.A.’s former Chairman, Tuatagaloa Alfred Schwalger, who wrote in the Authority’s 2019 report that
“In the conduct of its general business, figures for the year in review indicated a decline of over 30 per cent in new companies registered [new incorporations].
“The decline is attributed to more strict regulations about ‘de-risking’ by several international organisations like the O.E.C.D. and Financial Action Task Force (F.A.T.F.).”
Tuatagaloa found that this decline had taken place against a backdrop of “innuendos, ambiguities and the difficulties associated with the E.U. listing” and noted, as we did, that the organisation had continued to turn a profit.
We don’t consider this news stale or erroneous, coming, as it does, directly from the Chairman who tried to steer Samoa’s economy through the choppy waters of international finance after the blacklisting.
It is in fact, the consequence of a story that we have covered closely since the blacklisting was announced and its reasons were unveiled.
The Prime Minister thinks that under a new board Chairman, Taimalie Ernest Betham, and Chief Executive Officer, Sieni Tualega – Voorwinden, that the story has since moved on.
But the list is regularly reviewed.
Other jurisdictions added to the list this year, such as the Cayman Islands, have publicly affirmed their commitment to be off by year’s end, expressing their deep concern at being added to it.
The Bahamas was removed in February, according to a statement by E.U. Finance Ministers.
Until we hear news of the same we would invite the Prime Minister to share his reasons for thinking that the issue of Samoa being blacklisted is not going to continue to be an obstacle to the country’s economy and to S.I.F.A.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other issues raised in this newspaper this month that we’d like to seek the Prime Minister’s opinion on in an interview.
These include spending $17 million on an airport we were told would be fit to international standards but which is incapable of landing the national carrier's own planes.
Or what about the health of the nation’s drinking water and the United Nations designed study that found 47 per cent of households had contaminated drinking water?
Perhaps even the ructions in the Attorney-General’s office and an apparent shortage of prosecutors amid reports of rising crimes and a backlog?
Weighty matters, indeed. We’re ready when you are, Prime Minister.