Samoa, tax haven black listing and the fruits of ‘dirty money’

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

There is no doubt about it. The recent past has been a tough old time for Samoa, her veteran Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the government. 

And as the clock winds down towards the end of 2017, we can’t help being nervous. Ladies and gentlemen, the future is unknown; it’s unpredictable. 

But if we are to take the past as our guide, there is reason to be alarmed. People in the know when it comes to economics and finances will tell you to strap yourselves in as we are in for a rough ride up ahead economically and socially. 

Although tough as it is already, the cost of living will continue to be a struggle for many of the poorest families on these shores. 

Taxes, fees and charges provided for essential services are likely to continue to climb. That menace of a tax called V.A.G.S.T. might not stay at the rate it is currently for long, which means hardship, poverty and struggles are here to stay.

But then whom are we kidding? 

If the government has been desperate enough to tax ‘God’s elect’ so to speak, what’s to stop them from meddling with the V.A.G.S.T. and taxing all of us? Who are we, just ordinary souls, in the eyes of the government today, especially when it is desperate?

These are tough times and tough times call for tougher measures. Make no mistake about that. And whether we agree or not, that will not matter. 

Such is the story of wonderful Samoa today; it is the tale of an interesting one-party state democracy system where nothing is what it seems.

If we are honest with ourselves, this is not a proud time for us as nation and a people. While a lot has happened, it’s undeniable that Samoa’s name has been dragged across the mud for the world to see. Not once, not twice but far too many times. 

Whereas the rugby union’s affairs and its so-called bankruptcy made Samoa the laughing stock of the world, the continuous reference to Samoa as a tax haven is a real shame. 

Folks, it doesn’t matter how many times the government keeps assuring us that we have nothing to worry about. All that many people surely cannot be wrong and wherever there is smoke, fire is guaranteed. 

Let’s take a quick glance back. First there was the Mossack Fonseca and Panama Papers controversy some time in 2016, which directly implicated Samoa’s High Commission Office in Australia.

Just when we thought that had disappeared, the recent leak of what’s referred to as “Paradise Papers” again implicated Samoa through the operations of a company called “Asiaciti Trust.”

And now this week, Samoa, of all the countries in the world, is among 17 countries the European Union (E.U.) named and shamed in its first ever tax haven blacklist. 

Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Tax, said the list comes after “insufficient response” from the countries named “to the scale of tax evasion worldwide.”

“Blacklisted jurisdictions must face consequences in the form of dissuasive sanctions, while those that have made commitments must follow up on them quickly and credibly,” he said. 

The good news is that on the front page of the newspaper you are reading, the government appears to be making decent effort to remove Samoa’s name from the list. Let’s hope they achieve that, the sooner the better.

The bad news is that in the eyes of the world today, there is one undeniable truth. The name Samoa and the term tax haven are inseparable. 

Contrary to what the government has been saying about offshore finances, Samoa’s name has been permanently stained and as a country it is an unwanted tag we will have to live with for a while.

The real shame in all this is that the name Samoa is being mentioned in the same breath with terms such as money laundering, tax avoidance, dirty offshore trusts and others that no person in their right mind would want to be associated with. 

It’s a contradiction for a ‘Christian country’ where the church-going leadership gloats about good governance, transparency, accountability, fairness and justice every other day.

Whatever views you subscribe to when it comes to this issue, the reality is that offshore finances mostly involve the elite and dirty operating beyond the rules, rejecting what is decent and just. It other words, it thrives on corruption.

In the words of Brooke Harrington, a certified wealth manager and Copenhagen Business School professor, he said: “The offshore industry makes the poor poorer and is deepening wealth inequality.”

“There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose,” Harrington said. These people “live the dream” of enjoying “the benefits of society without being subject to any of its constraints.”

Now think about that for a minute. There is a spiritual element to all this in relation to the law of sowing and reaping. Whatever fancy name the government uses to spin and sell us the usefulness of such money, the one thing we know is that it a lot of it is far from clean. 

In other words it is simply dirty money. That dirty money is being used by the government to fund a lot of its activities in Samoa – including of all things our bankrupt rugby union. 

Can you blame the poor rugby players and coaches then for banging their heads against the wall only to keep on losing? What about the other sports that are being funded from the same source? Do their results tell a story?

Would it be wrong to say the same about all these government projects that keep failing? 

What are they trying to tell us? 

Think about it! 

Have a peaceful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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