S.N.P.F. queries, transparency and Samoa’s poorest

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Let’s see. The concerns expressed by a member of the business community in the Sunday Samoan about funds from the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.) being loaned to foreign business interests is a legitimate one. 

The government should certainly pay attention, especially in light of claims that the Central Bank of Samoa (C.B.S.) has become increasingly concerned about these “millions” leaving the country almost immediately.

Besides, in these difficult economic times, the Fund should be seen to be backing our very own business people. The irony of it all is that while a number of locally owned companies are being threatened with foreclosure and the like, it seems the Fund is quite happy to entertain the idea of investing our people’s money elsewhere. 

Now don’t get us wrong. We understand that the Fund has a job of finding worthwhile investment opportunities to grow its profile and earn a healthy return on investments, which will eventually be passed down to contributors.

History unfortunately is not on the S.N.P.F’s side when it comes to investments especially in relation to foreign owned companies. 

One in particular is an outfit called Desico where a couple of Sri Lankan businessmen sweet-talked their way into the Fund’s coffers. Under a different management at the time, the Fund lost more than five million tala. That’s a pretty hefty amount, which is why it will not be forgotten in a hurry.

And it is all the more reason why concerns expressed by “Lara” in the Sunday Samoan should be taken very, very seriously.

The woman claimed the S.N.P.F has recently lent “millions” to a Chinese businessman as well as Papua New Guinea group, Lamana.

 “At the end of the day, this is money that belongs to all Samoans. As far as I’m concerned, the Fund is here to help Samoans. So it should be at the forefront of helping local businesses,” she said.

Lara said history exists to show that many so-called investors come to Samoa “promising the sun and the moon” and they end up “using resources that should be reserved for local businesses.”

“They come as investors,” she said. 

“Now what kind of investor comes to Samoa to rely on Samoa’s money? They are not investors, they are using us. I think the government should be concerned about this. If investors come, they have to bring their own money, not come and then borrow from Samoa. This is not right.”

The points were repeated in another letter to the Samoa Observer yesterday, which we feel is worth revisiting. The letter asked a number of pertinent questions, such as:

• Why have we lent to these foreign companies and foreign businessmen when I thought the whole purpose is for them to bring in investment as they promised?

• Why have we lent to them and why so much?

• What returns will we see from these loans?

• What securities do we have over these millions lent? 

• What are the terms and conditions of these millions lent? 

• Is it true that the millions lent to both parties were immediately sent outside of Samoa to foreign bank accounts? 

• What security and background checks did the S.N.P.F. do on these individuals and companies? If any? 

Ladies and gentlemen, these are legitimate questions. They are legitimate concerns. After all these loans are not small amounts, we are talking about millions and millions of money that belong to some of the poorest people in this country.

Now on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer, the S.N.P.F. issued a response which tried its very best not to address any of the questions raised. 

Have a read for yourself:

“The Fund’s obligation to safe-guard the contributions of its members is a duty that the Fund undertakes with care and vigilance, and it is this duty to protect its members’ contributions that compels the Fund to lend money only when its lending policies have been satisfied.” 

“The Fund has lent to young people hoping to build a home, communities desiring to build a new place of worship, and to businesses - newly formed, or established - engaged in various activities.” 

“Thus many individuals and businesses have applied, and all are welcome to apply, for financing - but, in the interests of protecting members’ contributions, those individuals and businesses must meet the lending criteria. This is in accordance with the Fund’s duty to its members.”

Okay then. Fair enough. But here comes the kicker.  

“A member wishing to understand the Fund’s financial position and performance in any given year is welcome to download the annual reports available online.” 

“The latest Annual Report (for the Financial Year that ended in June 2016) is currently being reviewed by a Parliamentary Committee and once that has been tabled in Parliament, it will be made available on the Internet for the general public. This annual report will provide information on the Fund’s operations including its investments and their profitability.”

Is the S.N.P.F. serious? Are they telling the father of six who is paid the minimum wage and can barely afford a can of elegi to download something to be enlightened? What can they download with if they cannot afford a phone? Have you read the Village Voice lately about the plight of so many of these people? And how many people will understand these reports?

Why can’t the S.N.P.F just answer the very simple questions that have been posed to them? Isn’t this Fund part of a government that gloats about accountability, transparency and good governance all the time?

© Samoa Observer 2016

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