Opposition Calls For Samoa Finance Minister To Step Down

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Palusalue labels recent government spending as ‘reckless’

By Jasmine Netzler

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Dec. 30, 2013) – The leader of the Opposition, Palusalue Fa’apo II has called on Samoa’s Minister of Finance, Faumuina Liuga Tiatia, to step down.

Palusalue said the Officers of Parliament Committee report detailing how WST$339,105.90 [US$143,677] was spent to buy Faumuina a Lexus when he was the Minister of Samoa Land Corporation (SLC) is unacceptable.

The issue was brought to light after the report by the Controller and Chief Auditor, Fuimaono Camillo Afele was leaked and published.

A Parliamentary Select Committee reviewed the claim - among many others – and they found that the Lexus was bought from Corporation funds with a budget of WST$400,000 [US$169,477] for vehicles.

The money was supposed to be for the purchase of two vehicles, one for the Corporation and another for the Minister, at a cost of WST$200,000 [US$84,738] each.

The funds instead were used to purchase just the one Lexus that was used as a vehicle for the Minister.

The Corporation’s budget estimates claimed that the cost of the vehicle was WST$200,000 but the Committee’s investigation revealed that it was close to WST$340,000.

Palusalue described such spending as reckless. Further, he pointed out that there was no involvement of the Tenders Boards in the purchase process which means it violated Cabinet rules.

Palusalue stressed that the Committee believes the purchase of the vehicle for the Minister’s Office should have been included in the budget of the minister’s main portfolio – the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) – not SLC.

"This is one of the issues raised in a letter that was handed over to the Prime Minister and Caucus that 19 members of the Human Rights Protection Party signed."

That letter was based on controversy over Faumuina spending WST$600,000 [US$254,216] on his ministerial office at the SNPF building.

Faumuina later apologised to fellow party members for the controversy – said to be the first time that members of the Human Rights Protection Party had formally called for a Cabinet Minister to resign or be sacked.

Palusalue explained that when Faumuina was questioned regarding the purchase by SLC his reply was that the extra cost was because the car was a hybrid and was "environmentally friendly."

Regardless of what the truth behind the actual reason for the expensive buy was, Palusalue said the process used to purchase the vehicle was not within Cabinet policies.

The vehicle should have never been bought in the first place, he believes.

One of the disappointments behind the purchase apart from its price tag is that Palusalue claims the vehicle was used as the Minister’s personal property.

"Why buy this very expensive vehicle? His reply that it is was environmentally friendly is an excuse!

"I believe the process he used to buy the vehicle was not within Cabinet policies."

Palusalue is also supportive of the Parliamentary Select Committees recommendation that people within government that have been confirmed as involved in "corrupt practices" should be referred "to the law."

"This means that they are charged and of course I agree with the recommendation and the government should abide by this and do what the Parliamentary Select Committee has recommended."

Palusalue believes that "if nothing is done about these people, their behaviour will continue.

"That’s why I fully support the letter for the minister to step down".

Anyone else within the government that is dealing in "corrupt practises" should be charged according to the law, he said.

Palusalue is adamant that the purchase of such an expensive vehicle was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

He said that the money should have been allocated for more beneficial use such as giving a decent salary increase for people such as teachers and nurses among many others that are under the lower level pay scale.

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