The absent appointee needs to be present

By The Editorial Board 25 February 2024, 10:00AM

What is wrong with the people here? Quizzed a reader after reading the article about the new chair for the Samoa Consumer and Competition Board. An Australian national who has never resided in Samoa has been appointed to this position.

The incumbent is Charles Sweeney KC, which stands for Kings Counsel. A senior lawyer. He was the president of the Court of Appeal in Fiji until 2006. Mr. Sweeney left after the military took over the Government. He later became the Chief Justice of Tuvalu only to have his contract terminated after an investigation by the tribunal.

He was the former personal lawyer of former Tuvalu prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, who chose him to be the Chief Justice in 2016.

Now Mr. Sweeney has somehow appeared on the board of a very important body. A body that is responsible for consumer rights and ensuring effective competition in the Samoan market.

Perhaps he is qualified and the right person for the job but how can a person residing in Australia know anything about what is happening on the ground? Just reports and recommendations from the board and the ministry responsible is not enough.

Does he have any intent to come to Samoa at all? The prices of goods and the short supply of basic goods are something that is impacting everyone. Does this mean that complaints by consumers are redirected to Australia and the incumbent deals with them remotely?

If this is the course the ministry wants to take, the Chief Executive Officer can be selected from abroad and he can work from his country of residence. This also suggests that the Prime Minister should also be able to take charge of the government while residing abroad.

On the MCIL website, it says the objectives of the SCCC are to promote competitive markets in Samoa, establish standards of conduct for those who trade in Samoa and protect the safety and interests of the consumers.

The Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour continues its monitoring work to support SCCC by inspecting shops reported for excessive pricing of commodities.

However, there is concern that the lack of quick actions from the SCCC to address the pricing problem raised questions about the work of the Commission and the role of a chair who does not reside in Samoa.

The M.C.I.L. Chief Executive Officer, Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling said Mr. Sweeney was appointed to chair the Commission because of his experience in consumer and competition areas in the Pacific.

Pulotu was asked if it was an issue that the Chairman for the SCCC residing abroad and not in Samoa to attend to issues raised by the public promptly.

He replied since the establishment of the Commission the positions were advertised and the selection of Sweeney was based on his experience and qualifications.

The C.E.O. said the Government feels the need for the expertise that the Chairman holds and in the long term vision is to build the capacity of Samoans to take over the position. If this was the case then Mr. Sweeney should have been hired as a consultant to do a study on consumer, competition and the local market and send his recommendations via the paper.

There are enough qualified people in Samoa who can do the work effectively. The appointment of an expatriate is not the issue here, the issue is that the incumbent resides abroad. In a similar incident last year, the chair of a board was removed because he was not residing in Samoa and conducting all businesses remotely.

The SCCC provides advice to the Minister on competition and consumer protection, conducts investigations into complaints, and recommends price control orders be made in circumstances where there is no effective competition.

Now we have the SCCC, an entity that has a board and they deal with the above issue. There is also the Price Control Division that checks on prices and effectively does the same work.

The big question is how much is Mr. Sweeney being paid. Would a local appointee be paid the same?

The idea of a commission such as the SCCC is not a bad one but in most set-ups, price control, the policing of consumer laws and dealing with consumers are done by them and this effectively removes the Price Control Division.

By The Editorial Board 25 February 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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