Ministry files Police complaint over "confidential rubbish"

The Ministry of Customs and Revenue (M.C.R.) chief has confirmed dumping “confidential rubbish” at the Tafaigata landfill, saying they have filed a report with the Police in relation to the removal of documents meant for disposal. 

Responding to questions from this newspaper, the M.C.R. Chief Executive Officer, Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautua’alii said they reported the matter to the Police on Monday.

“We had reported this matter on Monday to Police and submitted all our statements to Police and they are working to find out the culprits who removed some of our ‘confidential rubbish’ from Tafaigata waste landfill,” she said in an email.

“We had also reported the matter to M.N.R.E. [Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment] and I believe the Police are investigating their team who were working on that day and around the area when we disposed of our confidential rubbish.

She did not go into further details on the matter noting that the Police are now investigating their complaint.

“Sadly, Olo and whoever is involved in playing dirty games and giving out wrong information to the public will have to answer to the Police on this matter.”

Her comments were in response to Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) and Member of Parliament-elect, Olo Fiti Vaai’s expressing concerns as to why Government Ministries are taking loads of documents dating back not more than seven years to bury or burn at the landfill.

He told the Samoa Observer that multiple bags containing Government records had been recovered from the Tafaigata landfill.

Olo said many of the paperwork they recovered included records from the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E.). 

However, the M.C.R. in a statement issued on Thursday said that confidential waste documents containing various taxpayers’ information have been widely publicized on social media forum mainly Facebook, since Saturday 12th June or Sunday 13th June 2021. 

According to the media statement which was signed by Matafeo, the confidential waste documents whose pictures were posted on social media are paper usage through printing, photocopying, draft correspondences with taxpayers, internal memorandums on work matters, et cetera, which were used by officers during their reviews, amendments, reconciling and testings, reassessment and drafting works and therefore were not required to be filed as records but are stored in our ‘confidential waste bins’.

“The confidential waste bags publicly posted and shared on Facebook, was part of the confidential rubbish that [was] sent to be disposed [of] at the Tafaigata landfill on Thursday 10th June 2021,” the M.C.R. statement reads. 

“In the presence of various officials, ten (10) confidential rubbish bags were buried deep into the landfill. 

“Sadly and unfortunately, some of these ‘confidential rubbish’ were presumably dug up and illegally removed from the disposal site by someone and later posted on Facebook. 

“[This] information [was] not found on the roadside as inaccurately reported on Facebook.”

The M.C.R. C.E.O. also attached in her email to this reporter her Ministry’s policy on handling confidential rubbish. 

It noted that there has been a high spending rate for the last two financial years with regards to paper usage through printing, faxing, photocopying and circular memorandums in the Ministry. 

According to the policy, confidential waste refers to the unused printing document that contains taxpayers or any Ministry for Revenue client’s sensitive information. 

M.C.R. employees are required to dispose of unwanted confidential documents in secured bins that are subject to the corporate services to collect monthly and shredded by allocated staff. 

“Allocated staff will shred these documents and throw it away. It is less [risky] than the normal government procedure of taking confidential waste for dumping at Tafaigata disposal area.” 

However, large trash bags recovered from the Tafaigata landfill showed multiple documents from the M.C.R. amongst other documents from various government Ministries. 

“The continuous strict protection of taxpayers’ information is paramount to the Ministry as these are considered ‘confidential information’ under section 9 of the Tax Administration Act 2012,” the public statement reads. 

“A breach of this section is considered an offence and faces not an only monetary penalty but also imprisonment term. 

“Given the seriousness of the act to remove our ‘confidential rubbish’ illegally from the disposal site, we have now lodged a complaint to the Ministry of Police and an investigation is now ongoing.” 

The statement concludes with a plead to the public for support in ensuring all social media posts in connection to the confidential wastes recovered are removed.

“I now seek the public’s support in making sure all posts containing photos of these waste documents with our Ministry’s logo and name on it, are removed from Facebook by either: deleting the post(s), report post and cease sharing or forwarding those photos,” Matafeo said.

“I respectfully seek the public’s patience and support as we endeavour to resolve this matter.”

On Wednesday, caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi denied accusations his administration is dumping and even burning Government records to avoid scrutiny.

Speaking during his weekly programme with TV3, Tuilaepa said taking paperwork by the garbage-bag load to the landfill is not new.

He said as Samoa continues to move into digitising its records, even more paperwork tends to be thrown away. 

However, Olo was not convinced by Tuilaepa's explanation, saying:  "Yes they can do that with records that have been there for seven years, up to ten years, but to burn paperwork from 2018, 2019 and 2020, it is not a good thing.

"There is a reason why they are burning it. Many of those disposed documents include peoples' signatures along with clients' signatures; are they able to have people sign on their computers? 

"Personally, originals must be kept. Maybe they would not be moving to burn those if the F.A.S.T. hadn't won the election.” 

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