“We have to apply common sense. This was my decision although it is not in line with the law” – Minister Tialavea

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

On the front page of the Sunday Samoan of 14 October 2018, the headline read: “Govt. can assist cash-strapped firms.” The story referred to a Government policy that allows certain companies to pay their import duty after 30 days – but only if they pay 50 per cent of the tax upfront. 

This was confirmed by the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, in response to questions from the Sunday Samoan. 

You see we’ve been told that several local companies are being allowed to take their goods from the wharf and sell them before they pay the duty. Immediately you know something is not right here. If businesses are doing that, no wonder the Government finances, especially when it comes to revenue collection, are in the red? This probably then explains why the Government continues to hike different taxes and force more people to pay taxes to make up this shortfall.

To be fair to Minister Tialavea, the system people in Customs often refer to as the “side release” had existed long before he became the Minister. The system by the way allows the taking of goods and paying later.

 “The law states that pre-release of cargo can be applied to individuals,” the Minister said. 

“However, 50 per cent up front and a 30-day deadline to settle the payment to the Government, but this is not applied to business goods. The containers are only allowed for release once the duty taxes are paid in full.”

Now remember that this is Samoa, there is always the exception. There is the law and then there is the Minister’s interpretation. 

It’s a fine line to walk folks.

 “For me as a Minister if a business is strap for cash flow, I would help them release their goods and they can pay their taxes within thirty days,” he said. 

“We have to apply common sense. This was my decision although it is not in line with the law.” 

“I am thinking of the bigger picture, if the Government does not help these businesses, they would eventually close down, and the employees would lose their jobs. And we would not collect any revenues.”

Well fair enough. There is logic to the Minister’s explanation. 

But like most things in Samoa, these loopholes are often abused. On top of that, there is the failure on behalf of Government to adequately follow up and collect revenue that’s owing the Ministry. Which probably explains why an outstanding debt of $87.6 million has been identified in the Public Account Management Audit report for the 2014-2015 financial years. Such an amount is not a small amount of money. It’s money the Government needs to proceed with its development programmes.

Isn’t this why the Government has become so desperate it is now moving to tax the Head of State and the Church Ministers? Who knows?

Getting back to the Minister, asked how many businesses have been offered this service and how much is the value of the duty owed, he declined to say.

Now the questions are: Why didn’t he reveal who those businesses are? 

And why can’t he reveal how much revenue remains uncollected?

What is it that prevented him from explaining fully the details of where this matter remains today? 

And how much of it is contributing to the suffering and pain of ordinary Samoans, who are being forced to carry the burden created by this system?

It would be wonderful to know.  

Stay tuned!

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