S.N.P.F. $67M loans spark favouritism, mismanagement fears

By The Editorial Board 29 February 2024, 10:00AM

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton's timeless words echo in light of recent decisions made by Papalii Panoa Tavita, Chairman of the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.). 

These decisions, involving the disbursement of $67 million in loans to a select six clients, including five businesses and a church, have raised significant concerns over the management of the fund’s resources. 

This sum surpasses even the recent dividend payouts to all the fund's contributors, who are mostly ordinary Samoans, highlighting a potentially unchecked prioritisation of interests.

Within a span of merely nine months, from May 2023 to February 2024, the S.N.P.F. has embarked on a financial mission that seems to diverge sharply from its stated vision: to serve the best interests of its more than 32,000 active members, who depend on the fund for essential loans for homes, vehicles, and land. 

The fact that such a large portion of the fund's assets was allocated to a handful of clients, under conditions that have drawn scrutiny, suggests a departure from responsible financial governance and a tilt towards favouritism.

The loan distribution by the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.) has notably favoured six clients, including a staggering $22.5 million to Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey, $14.2 million to a locally owned water company, Pure Water, $11 million to Vailima Breweries, and a substantial $13.2 million to the Samoan Independent Seventh-Day Adventist Church (SISDAC). 

Additionally, a clinic owned by Aiono Dr. Alec Ekeroma received $2.1 million, and Niu Pharmacy was granted a $4.3 million loan. 

But the pressing issue at the forefront of everyone's mind is the capability of the fund to fulfil its responsibilities to its 32,000 contributors, especially given the substantial amounts of money being loaned out in single transactions.

The potential for these ventures to fail poses a significant risk of financial loss. This underscores the importance of understanding the processes and due diligence conducted prior to these loan approvals. 

Standard loaning procedures require thorough evaluations, including reviews of financial history, analysis of income projections, and assessments of assets for collateral. Were all these conditions met and adequately satisfied before approval was granted?

Given the stakes, the members of the National Provident Fund find themselves in a shaky position if the loans were not rigorously vetted for security and the borrowers' ability to repay.

Furthermore, the distribution of it all over the past nine months sheds light on the reason behind the suspension of smaller lending schemes since January 2024. This raises critical questions about the financial assistance available to those contributors who are currently in need of financial support.

The silence and refusal of Papalii Panoa Tavita to address these concerns, coupled with allegations of abuse of authority, only serves to deepen concerns over the governance of the S.N.P.F. It prompts a reflection on the responsibilities of those in power and the importance of safeguarding the welfare of the many over the interests of the few. 

In the shadow of Lord Acton's cautionary words, it becomes vitally important for the fund's management and oversight bodies to reevaluate these controversial loan decisions and ensure that the fund's mission is faithfully upheld.

The current scenario with the S.N.P.F., compounded by a general atmosphere of evasion and silence, highlights a critical juncture for Samoa's leaders. They are presented with an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to the principles of accountability and transparency. 

It is imperative for our leaders, including Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, to actively engage with these issues, to voice their opposition to practices that may harm the public good, and to lead by example in fostering a culture of integrity and responsibility.

By The Editorial Board 29 February 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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