P.M. defends Customs’ decision over confiscated container
The Ministry of Revenue has the discretion on what action to take in cases of irregularities they find – including cases of smuggling.
That is the response from Prime Minister, Tuialepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, when he was asked for a comment about why a recent case where a container was confiscated by Customs has not been referred to Court.
The Samoa Observer put it to the Prime Minister that the government is “setting a bad example” by not referring the matter to the Court.
“When you think about it, if the accused is charged and arrested, what will happen to the money that needs to be paid back?” Tuilaepa responded.
“So that’s the thing you have to think about, whether to arrest the accused and what next?
“There will always be those people who will smuggle stuff in, no matter what penalties put in place there are those people who will continue to smuggle stuff in, but the most important thing to do is to recover the loss.”
Tuilaepa did not have the figures on how much the government recovered.
The case in question involves a local furniture store whose container was confiscated by Customs Officers in September 2017.
At the time, Minister of Revenue and Customs, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, told the Samoa Observer the container was allegedly smuggled into the country using falsified documents.
The Samoa Observer emailed Lei’ataualesa Komisi Koria who represented the owner of the company for a comment.
He has not responded.
According to the Minister at the time, when the Ministry became suspicious, they demanded further information from the company.
“They were never provided by the local business and then we had to step in and to confiscate the containers,” Tialavea said at the time.
“By the time we got to the containers there was only one left and we took 2,300 soda cases. We confiscated the shipment from a Chinese Store.”
During the Prime Minister’s weekly press conference, Tuilaepa pointed out the government is more into recovering of funds rather than taking cases to Court.
“I remember when I first started, it was a huge amount taken from within the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
“I gave the person the ultimatum that if the money is not paid within a week, he will be criminally charged and this will go on his record and he will never get another job in his life.
“When the time came, the money was paid and his services was terminated from the government.
“There are cases that we use our discretion. Keep in mind that if it becomes a criminal matter, there will also be costs.”
Tuilaepa gave another example of a case that came out of New Zealand.
“An employee took money and was charged in New Zealand. During the case, the family of the employee asked for a certain time period to gather funds to pay back what was stolen.
“The A.G. came to me and I said to recover the money and leave it at that.”
Minister Tialavea declined to comment.