Four Cabinet Ministers and three Associate Ministers still have business interests despite a plea from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi for them to offload their shares.
According to Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) records, Ministers Papali’i Niko Lee Hang (Works Transport and Infrastructure), Afamasaga Rico Tupai (Communications and Information Technology), Sala Fata Pinati (Tourism) and Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u (Justice Courts and Administration) still have shares in private companies.
For Associate Ministers, M.C.I.L. records indicate that Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, and Faaso’otauloa Pati Taulapapa – like their ministerial colleagues – also have shares in private firms.
Peseta is the Associate Minister for the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Attorney General, and the Public Service Commission.
Lealailepule is the Associate Minister for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology portfolio, while Faasootauloa is the Associate Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.
Afamasaga, who has 800,000 shares in the company Biogen3 Company Ltd, told this newspaper yesterday that the instructions to divest his shares were given – only to be put on hold – pending the outcome of a court proceeding.
“Tried at first but could not as they said there was a pending court case on records for company against one of its employees or something like that and then too busy to follow up."
“There have been no operations, transactions, etc. and basically inactive since then and I'm not sure if this company still exists,” he said.
The Minister also blamed the M.C.I.L. for the delay in updating its records, after he said he issued the instructions upon his appointment as Minister.
“They were all supposed to done immediately after I became Minister. All instructions were to remove me as soon as possible, then I got on with my job assuming it was done.”
His Cabinet colleague, Fa’aolesa, has 2000 shares in Tasi Enterprises Ltd and 8000 shares in Maroon Construction Company Ltd according to the M.C.I.L. records.
But the Minister told this newspaper yesterday that he gave instructions for the two companies to be de-registered.
“I assumed that they have been de-registered as I have not received any tax return inquiries on both companies from Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour. If those companies are still registered, that is in error and I should follow up with Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour,” he added.
For Lealailepule, M.C.I.L. records show that he is the major shareholder in the company Sharay Investment Ltd with 50 shares and the company was established in January this year. His colleague Associate Minister, Faasootauloa, has 100,00 shares in a company called Fa’aso’otauloa Taulapapa Investment Company Limited. To date both Associate Ministers have not responded to questions sent by this newspaper to their offices.
Attempts by this newspaper to also get comments from Papali’i were unsuccessful at the time of going to press, with staff acknowledging receipt of the questions and giving the assurance that they will be passed on to the Minister. The Tourism Minister also did not respond after questions were sent to his office on Tuesday and a follow-up done yesterday.
Associate Minister Peseta Vaifou Tevaga’s business interests has made headlines in recent weeks, following revelations by this newspaper that his company Aldan Civil Engineering Company Ltd, won a $3.57 million tala contract from the Government to build a new airport at Tia’vea. Peseta is the largest shareholder in the company. Coverage of the airport contract by this newspaper, highlighting potential conflict of interest, compelled the Prime Minister to appeal to his ministers and associate ministers to offload their family business interests.