Abuse Of Government Vehicles Costs Samoa’s Government Millions

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Public servants treating vehicles, taxpayers money, like their own

By Lanuola Tupufia

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 10, 2015) – The abuse of public vehicles is costing the government "millions."

That’s according to the Chairman of Parliament’s Public Finance Committee, Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, who says this comes at the top of the waste list, often resulting in government bodies blowing their budgets.

Papali’i made the comment during an interview with the Samoa Observer, when his opinion was sought over Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s $785million [US$333 million] budget for 2015 and 2016 tabled last month.

According to Papali’i, the government bodies always and often complain about not having enough money allocated to them in the budget.

"It’s always a problem when the budget is released," said Papali’i, who is a former Minister of Finance. But at times, government bodies are their own worst enemies.

"The main culprit in my view are reports of vehicle abuse," he said.

"There is lot of unnecessary money being spent on petrol, maintenance and repairing these vehicles. What they (public servants) need to know is that such money is taxpayers’ money."

Papali’i could not give a confirmed figure on how much the government spends every year on vehicles. But he guessed that it would be in the millions of tala.

He added that many public servants treat these assets "as if it’s their own."

"They act as if it’s their money that pays for it. You see a lot of these vehicles are running around after hours and it’s something that Ministries need to look at."

The Associate Minister also urged the government bodies to spend wisely and in accordance with their revenues.

"There is a lot of money being overspent (by Ministries).My advice is to spend wisely so that it (budget) doesn’t blowup.

As an accountant, Papali’i said the government does generate enough revenue to warrant such outlandish spending.

"There is not enough revenue and that is always thecase throughout the years," he said.

"Looking at the budget tabled recently, I hope the services to the people are not affected." As for vehicles, Papali’i called on the government ministries to stop the abuse of these public assets.

"We have to minimise the amount of money spent on any new vehicles," he said. The Public Finance Committee is compiling a report on the budget to be tabled in Parliament next week.

According to Papali’i, more details of the budget review will be made available after all Ministries are interviewed.

The budget is guided by the theme of "Living within our means".

In tabling the budget two weeks ago, Tuilaepa described it as a "tight one," saying that the government cannot continue to sustain its lavish spending of yesteryears.

"There is no way the government can sustain the high spending levels of the past five years without recourse to increased grants and raising taxes," said Tuilaepa.

"As a responsible government, we are proposing to cut back spending.And I am pleased to say that we are able to do this without compromising the provision of key services to our people. The message therefore is we need to "live within our means."

With estimated revenue of $689.01 million and expenditures totaling $785.35 million, the budget has an overall deficit of $96.34 million to be financed through soft term loans.

$14.35million has been put aside for unforeseen expenditures while the government has allocated $5million for the Commonwealth Youth Games later this year.

But the P.M’s budget has been highly criticised by Shadow Minister of Finance, Afualo Dr. Woods Salele.

Although he noted that the budget has been reduced by $42million compared to previous year Afualo said it is worrying.

Our view is that the budget does not respond to the needs of economy," he said in a recent interview.

"It doesn't have a plan for economic growth."

Asked to elaborate, Afualo said: "If the percent of employment has dropped by two percent with 23,457 registered employees, that is a huge cut back. These people pay taxes. Revenue collected also falls (if people are unemployed)."

The Shadow Minister said the government’s introduction of a health and a fossil fuel levy will mean the public will pay more for essential services.

"Realistically there are many smokers within households," explainedAfualo.

"They will not stop smoking. In fact the health levy will only mean that the whole family will have to contribute in paying for the old man’s cigarette. In the end, the families will be left to struggle."

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