P.M. Tuilaepa attacks Samoa Observer on State-owned media

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has attacked the Samoa Observer, claiming that the daily newspaper is setting out to ruin the Government’s reputation with misleading reporting. 

“We will correct them every time they make a mistake and we will put it online to tell the whole world this newspaper the Samoa Observer is full of false reports,” Tuilaepa said in his Wednesday programme on state-owned media.

“There are five mistakes this week.”

He pointed to Father Patolo Matiasi that oversees the Catholic Church in Vaiusu in disputing the article published on Monday that Police Officers were removing church goers. 

“The Priest has corrected that mistake,” he said. 

“This week only there are five mistakes in the paper.” 

He then referred to an article carried on Monday [“S.N.P.F. on the radar for farewell parties, staff uniforms”] based on an Auditor’s report into the Samoa National Provident Fund. 

In the report, the Auditor-General and Controller, Fuimaono Afele Taimalelagi, wrote of concerns about a “significant amount of money” the Fund had spent on a farewell party as well as staff uniforms.

The report also revealed that the “Fund incurred a loss of $552,882 during the financial year” through the Senior Citizen Benefit Fund.

But the S.N.P.F. disputed the story saying there was no loss at all.

“Even the report on the Audit Office, which the S.N.P.F. has corrected the fund did not record any losses,” Tuilaepa said. 

“They are forgetting that when the Audit submits a report to a certain Ministry so they can review and determine whether there are any mistakes. 

And if there are any errors, then it will be corrected because [the reports] are not always 100 percent.” 

The Prime Minister said while he had charge of economic development, there were errors in the reports about his Ministry. 

“And I wrote a huge response to the Controller and Chief Auditor at the time in line with the process, there is a draft report and then the [Ministry] is given the opportunity to respond and to make comments towards the findings [of the Auditor’s],” the Prime Minister said. 

“Keep in mind that aside from reports there is also a time for deliberations on these [Audit] reports.”

He also referenced another article on the Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] receiving $200,000 in funding allocated for political parties under the Office of the Legislative Assembly budget for the 2020-2021 financial year. 

“It has been 24 or 25 years since funding has been made available to official parties within [such as the Samoa National Development Party] at the time under the leadership of Tupuola Efi and Tautua Samoa,” said Tuilaepa. 

“This is to assure these [political] parties do not seek financial support from the business community, because once that happens, wrong decisions will be endorsed.”

He said the last time Tautua party was active, it was led by Palusalue Palusalue Fa'apo II and counted M.P. Olo Fiti Vaai as a member. 

“This $200,000 is divided amongst each Party; depending on the number of members,” Tuilaepa said. 

“Unlike us [the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.)] we have a huge compound where our headquarters is located, we have a staff, we pay for our lease, bills, advertisements and funding allocated for when we meet,” said Tuilaepa. 

“It has been two months since Cabinet approved to [return] back this [funding of $200,000] to assist with the government’s preparations of the COVID-19 and if we need [financial assistance] we will host fundraisers.”

The Samoa Observer ran a story on the funding in its Sunday edition, for which the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, was contacted for comment but did not respond. 

After a statement issued by the Government Press Secretariat, Thursday’s edition carried a story (“H.R.P.P. gives back $200,000) about the decision to return the money. 

The Prime Minister also questioned another article on employee benefits extended to Samoa Airways staff and family members, in the form of discounted airfares, that was also based on questions raised in an Auditor’s report. 

The Prime Minister said it was a mistake, which was corrected by the airline management. 

The Samoa Airways C.E.O., Seiuli Alvin Tuala, said the staff discounts highlighted by Auditor’s report to Parliament, were only for flights to Pago Pago and had been in place since 2005. 

“The 50 per cent staff travel benefit is on our Pago route only and has been in place since 2005. This does not apply to any international destinations that the airline operates to,” stated Tupuivao.

The Samoa Observer story was part of the Auditor’s report for the 2018-2019 Financial Year and raised questions about the national airline’s practice of granting employees’ relatives half-price tickets.

The Prime Minister concluded by attacking the “reporters” who authored the articles which he described as erroneous.

“The problems are the reporters, they must be cheap reporters and if they continue to [pay the salaries] of these reporters this is the end result and the paper will continue to get thinner, unlike the past it used to be thick,” said Tuilaepa.

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