Illegal seasonal worker flight confirms Ministry's woes
Not sure if you feel an air of optimism all around with the borders now open, families reuniting and tourists returning, amid celebrations of the country’s 60th Independence anniversary that continue here and abroad.
Everyone would be counting down to another round of independence-themed festivities next month, therefore too busy to notice developments this week, connected to a major Government-run scheme for Samoans.
If you did not know, a group of seasonal workers flew out of the country for New Zealand early this week, their travel in breach of a temporary Government ban on the deployment of seasonal workers.
An article (Seasonal workers fly without approval) on the front page of the Wednesday 10 August 2022 edition of the Samoa Observer had details on the somewhat secret flight.
According to the report, a number of responsible Government officers said they were not aware of the trip, with even the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour C.E.O. Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling, saying he is puzzled as to how it happened.
“Like I mentioned I don’t know how and the Ministry is aware that Cabinet has to give the approval before they leave,” Pulotu told the Samoa Observer.
“Every flight has to be approved by Cabinet first and there have been incidents where some [seasonal workers] leave [before approval] and the Ministry is subject to Cabinet’s approval and without it won't happen.”
An M.C.I.L. staff member, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said there were 17 fruit pickers as well as those working for meat processing companies who left earlier this week.
So how did close to 20 seasonal workers hoodwink the system and fly out of the Faleolo International Airport for New Zealand early this week?
And why did airport authorities allow them to board the aircraft when everyone knows a temporary ban is currently in place, while a Government-initiated inter-sectoral review continues into the Australian and New Zealand seasonal work schemes?
With all the coverage that the review has been getting in recent months, you would have thought someone would have asked questions at the airport, or more importantly, picked up the phone and made a phone call.
Leatinuu Wayne So’oialo, the Minister of Public Enterprises as well as Commerce Industry and Labour, told this newspaper that he was disappointed the Cabinet’s directive wasn’t followed.
He said the M.C.I.L. has been asked to prepare a report on how the seasonal workers who flew out early this week bypassed the Cabinet’s approval process.
We sympathise with Minister Leatinuu as this latest saga with the workers flying out without any thought of the consequences including being penalised appears to show that his Ministry has lost total control of the program.
Therefore, reports we’ve heard over the years of favouritism and nepotism associated with the seasonal workers scheme selection process appear to be true, if this latest incident of the workers illegally taking flight is any indication.
One question the illegal flight early in the week raises is whether the terms of reference from which the Government-initiated inter-sectoral review is being undertaken will go far enough to uncover flaws in the system?
Obviously, someone within the M.C.I.L. is pulling the strings and not even the C.E.O. of the Ministry knows what is happening. We say this because in April this year another group of seasonal workers also travelled out of the country without approval, despite the Cabinet-imposed travel ban already being in place.
So the travel early this week of more seasonal workers, without proper approval, makes them the second group in the space of five months to travel in breach of the Cabinet’s directives.
We look forward to seeing the findings of the internal inquiry that Minister Leatinuu has directed the M.C.I.L. undertake and furnish him with a report at its conclusion.
If the Ministry’s internal inquiry identifies officers, who were allegedly responsible for approving the seasonal workers’ travel, then they should be subject to disciplinary action for breaking the Cabinet’s directives.
As we continue to celebrate the country’s 60th Independence anniversary, there are also high expectations of our public servants doing their jobs with integrity and without fear or favour, for the good of this nation and its people.
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