A few weeks ago, the awarding of a multi-million-tala contract to a senior Associate Minister raised many eyebrows so that everyone who cared enough about the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance stopped and took a closer look.
Given that Samoa is a small place, where it is often said a person has more roots than a tree, cases of conflicts of interest are difficult to avoid. Which is why there are processes in place to deal with such issues when they arise.
Now the case in question has been well covered. It involves the Associate Minister of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga and his connections to Aldan Civil Engineering Company Ltd, the company which has been awarded the contract by the Tenders Board. They have both have come under immense scrutiny.
Not because of anyone’s fault. It was largely his fault. You see when the news surfaced, all he had to do was say something along the lines that he had declared his conflict of interest and he allowed the process to take its natural cause. Period. But he didn’t. Instead he insisted during an interview with this newspaper that he had no involvement in the company. Ironically, after saying that, he then went on in the same interview to give out the details of the project and what the company planned to do.
He didn’t stop there either.
Recently, he called a press conference to declare his innocence.
“This is a family business and of course I am not involved in the tendering process in any way,” he said. “It is my son who is in charge of everything including the paper work. I am just a shareholder, and if my children need me to work, I will work. There is no conflict. I told you, it is my son who signs the biding and tender documents, not me. I am not involved in any way I am just a shareholder.”
Let me remind you once again that the readership of this newspaper, in Samoa and throughout the world, are very intelligent people.
They are not idiots and fools who would not see through this rubbish.
Just a shareholder?
A search of the company’s register with the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour has revealed what the Associate Minister should have disclosed in the first place. Contrary to what he said, he is not just a shareholder; he is the major shareholder. Which means whether he is involved in the project or not, as the major shareholder, he still stands to benefit the most from the contract. Which is the real issue here.
To be fair to Peseta, he is not the first high profile public official to have been implicated in a case of conflict of interest. There were many Cabinet Ministers before him and we are sure he will not be the last.
But this Government needs to make up its mind about what it wants to do about these issues. It cannot just sit on the sideline and pretend this is normal. This is not normal. It is ignorant at best and abuse of power and position at worst.
Folks, if this sort of trend is allowed to continue, what’s to stop Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament from doing the same thing in the future? Why do we need laws about conflicts of interest then? Why don’t we forget this nonsense about transparency and accountability and let people do whatever they want to do?
Back in Apia this week after several weeks of travelling the globe, perhaps Peseta should take time to listen to his boss and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.
Asked about the case, Tuilaepa said Ministers and Associate Ministers should not be involved in their family business once they are elected into public office.
Said he: “They have been elected by their respective districts as their representative, and so the businesses should be handed over to the children and families, while they serve their constituencies.”
Now that the leader of the Government has spoken, what next?
The message is for Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials to stay far, far away. Which makes a lot sense.
The question is, what will the Prime Minister do now? Would he take it a step further and tell the Tenders Board and everyone else involved in the tender process to do the same thing? Will there be disciplinary actions? And how will doing that look compared to other glaringly obvious cases of conflicts of interest in the recent past? Or can we say that this will go down in history as another classic case of follow what we say but don’t do what we do?
Let’s hope not.
Have peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!