Senior politicians and the issue of conflict of interest

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Two weeks ago, a story titled “$3.57 million contract awarded for new airport” was published on the front page of the Sunday Samoan.

It certainly raised a few eyebrows. Firstly, very little has been said about the Tia’vea Airport project, certainly from the Government that is. 

Which is strange especially coming from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, who is traditionally very fond of talking about these grandeur projects by his administration.

Come to think of it, though, he’s hardly home these days. He’s been travelling so much during the past few months we almost miss him. 

Just last week he was in China meeting with President Xi Jinping and from there he globetrotted across to New York, where we find today that he has been meeting with A.C.P. leaders. 

Prior to that, he traversed the Pacific hopping from Fiji, Australia, Nauru to New Zealand and so forth. All part of the job, we guess. 

Now back in Samoa, the story in question revealed that the $3.57 million tala contract for the Tia’vea Airport had been awarded to a company, with connections to senior H.R.P.P. Member of Parliament, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga.

The decision was confirmed in a paper from Cabinet, F.K. (18) 28, issued on 15 August 2018, which advised that the airport contract has been awarded to Aldan Civil Engineering Company Ltd.

Questions of conflict of interest immediately came to mind. Which are natural anyway. The fact is Peseta is the Associate Minister of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He is also the Associate Minister for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Attorney General and Public Service Commission. These are critical offices he occupies.

As any responsible newspaper would do, the Sunday Samoan questioned the Associate Minister about his involvement in the company.

His response was swift:  “I am not involved in the project of this company.”

Now that’s quite a confusing answer, don’t you think? 

Did the Minister mean to say he is not involved in this particular project or did he mean to say he is not involved with the company at all? 

Again, these are simple questions. We say this because when it comes to matters of conflicts of interest, it’s all about public perception. We also accept that it is difficult in a small country like Samoa, where we all are somehow connected one way or another. In other words, we are family.

But then in this case, we are talking about a company directly connected to the Associate Minister, one that has just won a major Airport contract. Given what he had said that he was not involved, the Samoa Observer did a little bit more work.

Which led to another front page story titled “Peseta a major shareholder in company that won Airport contract” published yesterday.

As the headline reveals, a search of company records at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) revealed that Peseta, the Associate Minister, is indeed the major shareholder of Aldan Civil Engineering Company Ltd.

The search shows that out of the 100 shares in the company, Vaifou Tevaga, who is Peseta by the way, has 50 share parcels followed by Ruby Tevaga with 20, and Allen Tevaga and Danny Tevaga (with 15 share parcels each).  

Now that’s quite glaring isn’t it? 

The M.C.I.L. records don’t lie.

Which raises the question, why do these politicians think they can say anything and get away with it? Do they really think that all Samoans are “idiots” and “fools”? 

To be fair to Peseta, he is not the first senior politician to have been questioned when it comes to conflict of interest given their roles in Government and Parliament.

But what really boggles the mind is how these things are being done today, as if there is nothing wrong with them. It wasn’t that long ago that a Minister’s brother was awarded a multi-million-tala contract for another major project.

And here we are again today, looking at another senior Member of Parliament and an Associate Minister, heading down the same path? 

What is going on in Samoa today? Is the Government not concerned about these issues anymore? Or have we become to immune to cases of conflicts of interest that we should just ignore them and turn a blind eye? 

By the way, repeated attempts by our Chief Reporter, Joyetter Luamanu, to get a comment from Peseta were not successful. It would be nice if he responds.

Or maybe we should just wait until Prime Minister Tuilaepa returns. Whenever that is. So stay tuned!

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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