By Savea Sano Malifa

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Aug. 7, 2011) – Last week the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Revenue, Pitolau Lusia Sefo-Le’au, declined to discuss in detail the "millions" of tala owed to her department by members of the public in unpaid taxes and custom duties.

Now the questions that come immediately to mind are: Why not? Not only do those people owe "millions" to the public, why must they also be protected at the public’s expense?

Perhaps the CEO should be reminded that, without a shade of a doubt, the main reason corruption is continuing to thrive in this country causing unnecessary suffering to many is that those holding senior positions in government departments – she’s one of them, obviously – are refusing to be transparent and accountable to the public.

And so perhaps she should sit down and listen once again to the views expressed publicly by her boss, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, on this very serious matter that is also known as "corruption".

He told a meeting of regional economic ministers here in Apia several years ago - and since then he has reiterated it again and again – that his government would be guided by "transparency, accountability and good governance."

And just last week when he addressed the local chamber of commerce, Tuilaepa reportedly urged members to desist from coming to him for help in connection with the running of their businesses since that could be interpreted as "corruption."

Although the CEO has declined to disclose how many "millions" of tala in unpaid taxes are involved here – and who those owing them are - she admitted that "millions" are indeed outstanding, since she issued the warning the ministry was taking a "hard line" to recover those funds.

So what does she mean by the dodgy euphemism she now coins as "hard line" anyway?

Why don’t they just tell these people to pay up immediately like everyone else and stop fooling around, or what has been imported for which customs duties are still outstanding will be confiscated – like - right now?

Anyway, this is what the CEO says: "The ministry plans to take a hard line with those few customers who decide not to comply, and this will include prosecution actions in appropriate cases."

Now that’s fresh. What is going on here by the way? The point is that it is not for any customer to "decide" not to comply, full stop.

In fact, he has no decision at all to make; all he does is pay up which is what the law says, or do we now have a different law we have not been told about?

Besides, prosecution is a costly exercise, which follows that if prosecutions are to proceed against those "few customers" the CEO is talking about – whoever they are anyway – it is the public who will once again be made responsible for all the costs that are likely to be incurred as a result.

So we ask again: Why must the innocent, silent public, continue to suffer undue hardship as a result of the ineptitude and insensitivity of some of its so-called public servants?

And now that the CEO has declined to reveal the details of the "millions" owed, that seems to suggest the public will just have to bite its tongue and wait, until she decides when to pursue with her "hard line" method aimed at recovering those funds, when she feels like it.

So let’s be clear about this. Whatever she decides and whatever her decision will be, it will still be a very costly wait.

In any case, Tuilaepa’s reported comments during last weeks’ meeting actually sounded quite interesting; they are therefore worth thinking about.

When he urged members to refrain from coming to him for help, he said this was wrong; he then apparently condemned the practice as "corruption."

However, that condemnation failed dismally to dispel the sad notion this abysmal practice has been allowed to continue for perhaps a long time, and yet it should have never been so.

Furthermore, it has been perpetrated by "some leaders" of the so-called business community, which may explain why only a "few customers" are now owing "millions" in unpaid duties to the ministry of revenue.

And now that it appears the PM is quite sick of having to deal with this equally "sick culture of corruption," we’re pretty dumbfounded since it has taken him this long to condemn it; so let’s hope that this time, he will insist on putting a permanent end to it.

And so naturally, perhaps he should take a thorough look at the ministry of revenue which, according to unconfirmed reports, is owed some $13 million (USD$5.6 million) in unpaid taxes and import duties.

Those reports also say that two of the debtors are road construction companies – one of them owes $1 million (USD$435,000) and the other $600,000 (USD$260,000) – and that, by any count, seems like a good enough place for Prime Minister Tuilaepa to start.

Savea Sano Malifa is the Chief Editor of the Samoan Observer newspaper in Samoa.

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