AG should look at SOEs’ illegal behaviour

The Samoa Land Corporation is one under scrutiny

The Samoa Land Corporation is one under scrutiny

Alan Ah Mu

APIA: FRIDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2014: It’s time for the Attorney General to have a look at state owned enterprises that are late with their annual reports.

“It’s out of control,” Shadow Finance Minister Afualo Wood Salele said.

“It’s like a disease,” said Afualo who is also a member of the Public Accounts Committee.

Chairman of the committee, Government MP Papali’i Niko Lee Hang, has repeatedly called for SOEs to table annual reports required by law to no avail. Out of some 16 SOEs, Papali’i mentioned insurance company SLAC as the only one that has submitted an up-to-date annual report.

Afualo added Polynesian Airlines and can remember no other. Some SOEs are two, three, four, five years late.

“I don’t know how to describe that,” said Afualo.

“It’s time for the AG to look at it,” he said.

It’s unacceptable for management of SOEs to say they are short of accounts staff or that the accounts haven’t been audited yet, said the Shadow Finance Minister. If a CEO of a SOE fronts up to the committee with an excuse like that, the response should be, “I think you should resign.”

Papali’i said their committee can only make recommendations as to ways to improve revenue for Government. Cabinet makes the decisions.

Cabinet has tolerated the illegal behaviour of SOEs for decades. All SOEs have a minister in charge. Even ministries must table annual reports on time. None do – not even the Ministry of the Prime Minister.

Yet Prime Minister Tuileapa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi mentions accountability, transparency and good governance without a stutter.

“That’s all bs,” said Afualo.

He said the core function of SOEs is to maximise profit then hand Government 7 percent of it to help fund the budget.

More often than not the opposite happens; Government funds the SOEs to keep them in operation.

At the exact time contributions to the budget by SOEs is needed it doesn’t happen.

An International Monetary Fund report of 2010 says for instance:
“The Government has guaranteed 12 SOE loans contracted with the Samoa National Provident Fund and two commercial banks.
“The guarantees are equivalent to about 3.2 percent of GDP.
“The creditors have exercised guarantees on four of the loans and the government has assumed responsibility for servicing the loans.  The rest remain contingent liabilities of the government.”

Government should step in and reform SOEs who are financial failures, Afualo said. If those don’t work they should be offered for sale to the private sector, like the Agriculture Stores Corporation, he said.