Time for P.M. to introduce law to deal with Ministers’ private business interests

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi issued an impassioned plea to Members of Parliament, particularly Cabinet Ministers and Associate Ministers. 

In light of recent controversies involving Cabinet Ministers and their business interests, Tuilaepa’s call was quite simple. He wants them to stay far away from their family businesses, telling them to focus on their public duties instead.

 “They have been elected by their respective districts as their representative,” Tuilaepa said, “so the businesses should be handed over to the children and families, while they serve their constituencies.”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa makes a valid point. 

Cabinet Ministers have a moral responsibility to the country to ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally, and that they put their best foot forward to advance the development of others, not just themselves.

Indeed, they cannot juggle their private business interests and their public duties at the same time. They have to choose either/or. You see, regardless of whether they are clean or not, there will always be questions of conflicts of interest, especially in a small country like Samoa.

Which is what has been happening a lot lately. 

Think of the Associate Minister of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peseta Vaifou Tevaga, who has been making the headlines for his involvement in his family’s business. 

We’re not going to delve into that again since we believe the matter has been reported in detail in the pages of this newspaper for the past few weeks.

Just last week, another senior Cabinet Minister, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, was questioned about his alleged involvement in another family business-related matter.

But we know they are not the only ones.

On yesterday’s front page, it was revealed that four Cabinet Ministers and three Associate Ministers still have private business interests despite the plea from Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

According to the 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 and Courts 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. 

Now let’s pause here for a minute. 

To be fair to all these Ministers and Associate Ministers, they are not the first ones to have private business interests. There were many before them and we’re sure there will be many more after them.

Besides, in some cases, these senior public officials had these business interests long before they entered Parliament and became Cabinet Ministers. 

But this is where Tuilaepa’s point about them doing what is right comes into play. It is a point that has been immediately backed up by one of his senior Cabinet Ministers in the Minister for Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt.

“I believe in doing the right thing. Once I became a Minister, I transferred all my shares to my family,” Tialavea said. “My point is, it is a moral issue and no minister should hold shares in any company. This is assurance to members of the public that there is no shady business going on.”

Moral issue? 

Absolutely. We couldn’t agree more with Tialavea.

“In my view personally the ministers and associate ministers once they are appointed to office, should transfer their shares, it makes life difficult for them and their families who are running the business.”

Tialavea added at the time of their swearing-in, each and every Cabinet Minister is asked to steer clear of their family-owned businesses and offload their shares.

Very true. But here’s the issue, for this issue to be addressed adequately, Prime Minister Tuilaepa needs to do more than just talk. At the moment, there is no specific law that deals with issues of conflicts of interest apart from certain policies in the public service.

Perhaps now is the time for Prime Minister Tuilaepa to put his money where his mouth is by legislating the issue, making it illegal for Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament to have any private business interests, whatsoever.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us.

Have a good Friday Samoa, God bless!

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