Govt. accused of favoritism in business assistance

Local businesses have expressed concern that only foreign investment enterprises (F.I.E.) benefit from Government assistance schemes offered to the private sector.

The Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) has recorded the concerns of the local businesses, according to the M.C.I.L. Assistant Chief Executive Officer (industry development and investment promotion), Fiu Jacinta Matulino. But she has denied there is favoritism.

“The Ministry reaffirms that there are no favoritisms, and that all eligible businesses inclusive of local businesses, are entitle to the assistance schemes administered by the Ministry,” she told Sunday Samoan in an interview. 

A number of complaints were also received from F.I.E.s, added Fiu, on the involvement of non-citizens in business activities placed under the “reserve list”.  

“Mainly on the issue of involvements of non-citizens in activities listed in the reserved list, mainly in the ‘retailing’ activity, where these businesses were reported to be registered under citizens, to obtain business licenses and to avoid the F.I.E. registration process with M.C.I.L." 

“No complaint has been received with regards to the registration process, fees charged and the monitoring process carried out by the Ministry.” 

Fiu said the Ministry has also seen an increase in foreign investment from China, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and other countries. 

 The increase was attributed to the continuous work to promote Samoa as an investment friendly environment. 

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“The aim of the investment work is to attract sustainable investments that will generate employment opportunities for our local people, provide capacity building for our labour force through new knowledge shared, transfer of technology, increase our export, generate revenue for the local economy and etc.,” she said.

In the last three years, a total of 208 FIEs were registered and foreign investment certificates issued. While many foreign-owned businesses operate for a period of time, Fiu said some of them were deregistered, after the investor obtained Samoan citizenship.

“One example of an FIE that was in operation for a long period of time and has been deregistered, due to discontinuing of operation is the Yazaki EDS Samoa. 

“Other major FIEs recently set up and are still in operations and to name a few, we have the Taumeasina Island Resort, Sheraton Hotel, Bank South Pacific, Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, Fero Samoa Limited and others. 

“The Ministry continues its M&E works where we also ensure the renewal of all issued FICs, obtaining FIE status reports and other relevant processes are carried out to report on the progress of investments and investment benefits.” 

Fiu said they continue to work with the Ministry for Revenue, Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Immigration to ensure full compliance with the legislation. 

Any registered business in Samoa with a share or shares held by a non-Samoan citizen should be registered as an FIE, Fiu added. Therefore, all registered FIEs are either fully or partially owned by non-citizens. 

Foreign investors can participate in all economic activities except for those listed in the reserve list of the Foreign Investment Act 2000 and the Prohibited Activities List of the Business License Act 1998 (Schedule 1). Non-citizens can also participate but should avoid bus transport services for the general public, taxi transport services for the general public, rental vehicles, retailing (food and drink items – refer to Schedule 1.), saw milling and traditional elei garment designing and printing

Fiu said the business license – which allows an individual to operate a business in Samoa for both citizens and non-citizens – is issued by the Ministry of Revenue. But all FIEs are required under the Foreign Investment Act 2000 to be registered in Samoa. 

The process of registering FIEs for the issuance of FICs is mandated and carried out under the MCIL. 

“The Ministry supports the setting up of new sustainable businesses (both as local businesses or as foreign investments) that produce returns on investments, generate local employments, introduce new knowledge and technology for the up-skilling of our labour force, increase our export, generating revenues for the local economy and etc.,” Fiu added.

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