Election talks, outstanding taxes and that helicopter

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

It’s a rare story but it’s true. Days before the General Election in March 2016, the Government couldn’t contain its excitement about a certain company that had mysteriously moved from Tonga to Samoa.

The folks behind the company obviously saw an opportunity and so did the Government, especially with the nation about to head to the polls.

The company we are referring to by the way is Samoa Helicopters Company. 

It arrived with a bang promising all sorts of services including medical evacuation and search and rescue operations. Back in 2016, Principal and founder, Rodger McCutcheon and his group made a beeline for Prime Minister Tuilaepa, who immediately issued a glowing endorsement for the company.

“When it comes to private investments where lives will be saved then government must take decisive action. It is utter nonsense and ridiculous for any government to discard a service of this nature,” Tuilaepa said.

At the time, Tuilaepa just couldn’t help himself.

“Incidentally, didn’t the Opposition Party a few weeks back promised to launch a similar operation if they are elected into office in their vain attempts to lure voters?” Tuilaepa said. “Even if they (Opposition) by a miracle is elected as the new government, where in the world would they secure a fully privately funded investment like the Samoa Helicopters initiative?”

As for the timing of the announcement, Tuilaepa rejected suggestions that it was an election ploy. “To set the record straight, the helicopter project has been in the government’s thinking tank for years. And unknown to the Opposition, government has been silently negotiating with the investors long ago through the Chief Executive of Tourism Authority, Papali’i Sonja Hunter.

 “The general election was never in the equation when the proposal was initiated and the timing reaffirms what I have been preaching to the opposition again and again to stop picking up my administration’s leftovers.”

Well that was two years ago. There is no doubt that the services provided was wonderful while it lasted. You see, several months after the glowing endorsement by the Prime Minister, the company folded. 

The helicopter stopped flying, it suddenly disappeared from Mulinu’u where it had been proudly displayed.

This was until this week when the company made headlines again. This time, they are involved in a scrap with the Ministry of Revenue, who have threatened to sell the helicopter to recover the money owed by the company in terms of taxes.

Michael van der Zypp, who previously worked with Mr. McCutcheon in Tonga, is the man in the way. He said the Ministry of Revenue cannot sell the helicopter since it is owned by an Australian-based company, Helicopter Group.

“It has now been two years and we have tried unsuccessfully to have it moved. It needs to come back to Australia to be re-serviced, I am not sure if it (helicopter) can be flown again,” he said.

Well whatever the case is, the Ministry of Revenue is not moving.

The Ministry’s C.E.O., Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautua’alii, in response to questions from Samoa Observer, said the impounded aircraft will not be released until the import goods and services tax (G.S.T.) payable on the helicopter is paid in full. 

The Ministry had originally planned to auction the helicopter on Saturday but it has now changed its mind. In the statement, Matafeo highlighted that parties who claim to have interest in the helicopter are to write to her to reconsider her decision in seizing the helicopter.

 “The timeframe for written application for reconsideration is October 5, 2018. Once we receive the application, our Ministry will then assess the application,” she said.

“If the Controller does not receive any application within this set timeframe, then the original intended auction will proceed under section 283 of the Act.” 

From where we stand, this is a very simple matter. Whoever owns the helicopter needs to pay their taxes, all of it too. When that is done, they should be able to take their property and do whatever they like. 

But where does that leave Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his fascination about these so-called investments? 

Was he not the one who gave the glowing endorsement, which allowed this failed operation to go ahead full steam in Samoa?  Indeed, where is the government who gave the glowing endorsement to your so-called “fully privately funded investment” days before the election? Maybe next time they should really find out why other countries – such as Tonga - rejected these so called investments. 

What’s happened is that these so-called fly-by-night investors come and are given the red carpet treatment by the Government. They are welcomed and they go on to fool the Government in the process. All of a sudden they disappear without paying their taxes and yet the Government is so desperate it is taxing everyone to the bone – including Church Ministers – to try and make up for this shortfall.

This is so typical isn’t it? 

Someone in the Ministry of Revenue should tell us how much tax this company owes. Stay tuned!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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