A local businessman who had asked the Ombudsman’s Office to investigate the Ministry of Revenue over questions with regards to import and duty compliance is not a happy man.
Manu Meredith, the Owner of Le Well Company Ltd, whose correspondences with the Ministry of Revenue over the issue had previously been leaked to the Samoa Observer, has finally decided to break his silence.
He has decided to speak out saying he is frustrated that the Ombudsman’s Office has yet to launch an investigation into his concerns.
“As of yesterday, I can tell you that no investigation has been launched,” he said. “All I’ve had is just emails back and forth.... emails that was answered months or weeks at a time.”
Earlier this year, Manu had asked the Ombudsman’s Office for an investigation in a letter dated 13 February 2017. That letter followed efforts by Manu to raise concerns about alleged unfair practices involving liquor taxes and prices within the Ministry of Revenue.
Information obtained by the Samoa Observer indicated that the correspondence between Le Well Company Limited and Ministry of Revenue's Customs Department have been going on for more than a year.
Not happy with the answers from the Ministry, Manu raised the matter with the Office of the Ombudsman.
“We feel it is necessary that an external investigation should be made into these practices so that we feel we are being treated fairly and will not have to question the integrity of this very department,” Manu wrote.
That was at the beginning of the year.
“It has been six moths since I submitted a formal complaint with a request for an investigation into the Customs directly to the Ombudsman,” Manu said yesterday.
“So far my plea for help is not getting anywhere. I don’t know who I can ask to look into this delicate yet important issue anymore.
“I had contacted the Ombudsman with the hope that they will act in accordance with their mandate... but that doesn’t appear to be the case.”
According to correspondences obtained by the Samoa Observer, Manu claims “there are Customs officers that purposely overlook the correct quantities on certain alcoholic beverages orders by some of our local competitors, in order for those companies to pay less than the required duties, thereby making the retail prices lower than they should be.”
The businessman has written to the Ministry of Revenue C.E.O Avalisa Viali-Fautua'alii many times. Correspondence that started in late 2015 between Manu and the Customs C.E.O were also obtained by Samoa Observer.
In November last year for example, Manu wrote to Avalisa Fautua'alii about the issue of “fair competition.”
“The intent of my communications with your department is reassurance that there is fair competition across all suppliers of liquor imported as well as produced locally,” the letter reads.
Manu pointed out to the C.E.O that “local spirits with 30% over alcohol content should have a tax of $19.96 per liter plus 15% V.A.G.S.T [Value Added Goods and Services Tax] (not including labor, materials and profit etc).”
He said the selling prices for liquor 1liter claiming to have 45% alcohol content is $21.00 including V.A.G.S.T. According to Manu, the prices they have researched assumes these local liquor products have less than 30% alcohol content, then the pricing would be in line with local tax requirements.
He also directed the C.E.O to a local wholesale who has been selling wine reportedly from Europe yet the local price “is very cheap for European improved wines.
“I do not want to assume that your office or some officers are overlooking these matters but I want to be reassured the competition from local businesses are all treated fairly,” Manu wrote then.
Today, Manu said he is tired of being given the run around.
He said he would seek an appointment with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to further raise his concerns.
“I have evidence that was submitted directly to Customs and to the Ombudsman about what I uncovered,” he said.
Since 26 June 2017, the Samoa Observer has been sending emails to the Ombudsman’s office to follow up on the progress of Manu’s complaint.
The emails were followed by visits to the Ombudsman’s office in bid to get an update.
The Samoa Observer met with Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, who referred the inquiries to Deputy Ombudsman, Maualaivao.
When the Samoa Observer contacted Maualaivao, he said the issue is confidential and he cannot discuss it.
He told the Samoa Observer to go back to Manu to ask for an update.
“Or maybe you [reporter] can go an investigate his claim.
“Everything pertaining to this matter is confidential.”