Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, did not mince words. He said tips opens the door to bribery and eventually corruption.
And he believes the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who is also the Acting Prime Minister, should be ashamed of encouraging Customs officers to accept tips.
“I am ashamed as a Member of Parliament about some of the public statements made by the Minister of Revenue about accepting tips,” Olo said.
“No matter how you phrase it, the fact of the matter is that tips should not be accepted in any government job. That is a big no.”
Last week, the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea, defended Customs Officers who accept tips from members of the public.
“There is a fine line between bribery and tips,” he told the Samoa Observer.
“And I for one have no problem with Customs officers taking tips from people. I don’t think there is anything wrong with receiving a tip.”
The Minister was responding to concerns raised by the public after the Custom’s Green Lane List system, came to light following a Samoa Observer article.
According to the Minister, Customs Officers are well educated about the difference between tipping and being bribed. This is part of their training.
But Olo Fiti will not have it.
“There is no blurry aspect to differentiate tips and bribery. I see tipping as a transaction purchasing future service than a reward for good service."
“The Minister said it’s the reward for good service, that is the duty of Customs Officers, they should provide quality service. They are paid by the public to do that."
“They shouldn’t feel privileged to expect tips from the public.”
Olo said the Minister’s comments would have massive ramifications for the government – beyond Customs."
“I am certain they will now expect customers to give them tips all the time,” he said.
“Who knows maybe they will even go as far as demanding it? This is the impact of what has been done and I cannot sit idle while this charade is going on.”
According to Tialavea, gifts given in the right spirit are okay.
“Tips follow the rendering of a service, whereas bribes precede it,” said Tialavea.
Tialavea told the Samoa Observer the clear distinction between tips and situations where informal payments would be considered a bribe.
“Accepting bribery is corruption and that will not happen under my watch,” he said.
“The timing of the payment is critical and tips are determined after the service is provided. And tips can be adjusted depending on the service given by the Customs Office."
“If I come in to clear my container and I give you a $100 before, that is bribery."
“But if I give you money after I am satisfied with your service and your friendliness that is tipping. I give you $20, why would you not accept it? There is a big difference."
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the staff whether to accept the tip or not. I cannot ask them not to accept tips because no matter what I tell them they will take the tips."
“It’s a waste of time to implement a stop tipping policy, no one will heed or consider that regulation. Also declining a tip is rude and in our Samoan culture its unacceptable for you not to take a tip."
“Even I get tips,” said the Minister. “I end up giving it to my staff for their coffee or tea, so you see there is nothing wrong with tips.”
The Minister added he accepts the fact that no one is perfect.
“I know there are those businesses who attempt to pay their containers to my staff directly but time will come when that will deal with as nothing is hidden under this sun.”