MATA’AFA KENI LESA
In Salt Lake City, Utah
And so the saga involving the Chief Executive Officer of Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure, Afamasaga Su’a Pou Onesemo, has taken another turn.
Since the allegations of corruption leveled against the C.E.O. by a former Member of Parliament of the Government of India, Sh.P.K. Bansal, surfaced at the beginning of the year, this matter has taken several interesting twists leading up to the newest development. Revealed by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi last week, it has now been confirmed that the Government has moved to terminate Afamasaga’s services. Pronto.
For the uninitiated, all this started when Mr. Bansal had written to the chairman of the Public Service Commission on 28 May 2018 alleging “corrupt and illegal practices” by the Chief Executive Officer. The Samoa Observer was copied.
“For transparency, we the board of directors of the Ascent Navals Company, through our Director General Capt Suniel K. Sharma, applied to become a recognised organisation (RO) when M.W.T.I. advertised last year,” Mr. Bansal wrote.
“Up until now, all I am receiving from this C.E.O. is lies and excuses without a proper update of my application. I know we have been betrayed by Mr. Onesemo and more (sic) worse, he has been asking favour and use us in many ways on pretext of authorising us as R.O.”
Afamasaga has maintained his innocence all along. He had argued that his decision to remove Ascent Navals from the recruitment process to be engaged as a ‘recognised organisation’ in Samoa led to them making false allegations against him. He also accused Mr. Bansal and Ascent Navals of being corrupt themselves.
Listen to Afamasaga again: “These allegations is due to their frustration from numerous visits to Samoa and offers to myself and the Ministry that I continued to deny.
“He even offered a proposal to Samoa Shipping Corporation, which was also denied. These people are so demanding and the approach of bribing officials that I never accepted. Had there been any offers accepted, I would have been hesitant to remove them from the selection process.”
According to Afamasaga, the Indian company approached the Samoan Government in 2014 to establish Samoa International Maritime Authority (S.I.M.A.) that will do vessel registry for Samoa.
“In 2015, the company was declared fraud by Samoa M.W.T.I., as this was done without the knowledge of the C.E.O. at the time, Vaaelua Nofo. Internal investigation was conducted and Vaaelua at the time ceased everything with regards to S.I.M.A.
“In January 2016, when I was just appointed C.E.O. internal (A.C.E.O. Maritime) advise was given to me to consider starting a vessel registry.
“Without prior knowledge, I directed to seek approval from Cabinet (P.K.) for vessel registry as there are economic benefit for Samoa with registry fees and job opportunities on locally registered vessels.
“Two companies were nominated and proposed for approval including Ascent Naval, Thailand. With appropriate approvals in November 2016, authority was given to Ascent Naval and another company and the Philippines to proceed with the registry and related works.”
But there was a problem.
“Two months later (February 2017) this company, Ascent Naval was brought to my attention by our overseas mission in New York that was declared fraud by Samoa in 2015.
“Immediately after, I revoked the authority given to Ascent Naval and investigated internally. I retrieved all documents from officials who conducted the investigation in 2015 including the notice to I.M.O. and the people who were involved.
“Two people from the Ministry were identified to be involved but denied any knowledge and involvement. Matter was discussed with the A.G. at the time, but it did not proceed to any conclusion.”
Now one of the interesting twists in this saga involved a former Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the Maritime Division of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.). See soon after Afamasaga was suspended and investigated, the P.S.C. terminated the services of Fepulea’i Mark Alesana who had apparently attempted to resign after the allegations surfaced.
That was in June this year.
There was a long pause in between until September when the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.), Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, admitted making a mistake prematurely when he told the Samoa Observer at the time the P.S.C. had terminated the services of the C.E.O.
“I was wrong,” Minister Papali’i said. “I was under the assumption the contract has been terminated.”
Today we can say that perhaps Papali’i at the time knew something we didn’t.
He probably had every reason to say what he said then – except it was a little premature - given that today, the decision to terminate Afamasaga’s contract has now been officially endorsed by Cabinet and announced by Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
“We have validated the recommendation submitted by the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) yesterday (Wednesday) after their lengthy and thorough investigation into allegations leveled against the C.E.O,” Tuilaepa said.
“We decided to terminate his employment contract following the recommendation. He was also given the opportunity to respond to the allegations leveled against him.”
Tuilaepa added that the decision by the “P.S.C Commissioner follows results that he breached his contract and breached values of honesty; hence the decision by the P.S.C. to terminate his contract.”
It will be interesting to see if Afamasaga would pursue the matter. The only other avenue he has to clear his name – if he wants - would be a lawsuit. So let’s wait and see.
But in the interest of justice, honesty and consistency, Prime Minister Tuilaepa should do the same to other similar cases of alleged corruption and abuse highlighted countless times by the Audit Office in their report to Parliament. These instances have been highlighted on the pages of this newspaper involving misuse of Government properties, sometime monies and other incidents of wrongdoing. P.S.C. should do the same.
They cannot sack Afamasaga and ignore everything else that’s going on in Government. That’s what we think anyway, what about you? Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!