Cabinet to discuss wronged businessman

Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma makes scathing criticisms of MNRE in its dealings with businessman Harry Chan Tung.

Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma makes scathing criticisms of MNRE in its dealings with businessman Harry Chan Tung.

by Alan Ah Mu

APIA: FRIDAY 31 MAY 2013: The dilemma of a businessman ruined by official incompetence in a land transaction is to be discussed by Cabinet.

Losses suffered by Harry Chan Tung as a consequence started a sequence of events which eventually forced him out of the country broke.

Chan Tung bought four acres of Fugalei swamp land for $480 000 in 2002 as part of a strategy to strengthen his various enterprises.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) approved the purchase then realised it had bungled because swamp land is by law inalienable state property.

MNRE invalidated the sale and without an apology for the error or care about its consequences cut Chan Tung adrift towards financial ruin.

An investigation by the Ombudsman’s office revealed the matter.

The Ombudsman is a statutory officer appointed by Parliament to investigate complaints against Government departments and other official agencies.

Yesterday Opposition leader Palusalue Fa’apo II told Parliament MNRE must compensate the businessman.

Perhaps three weeks ago he directed the head of a ministry to come up with a document for Cabinet about carrying out what the Ombudsman recommends in the matter, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said.

So proper process is underway, Tuilaepa said.

He didn’t tell Parliament who amongst the heads of Government ministries he’d given the instructions to.

In a report dated 6 May 2013, Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, said “In reality, incompetence, lack of diligence or perhaps something even worse, within MNRE was at the heart of the problem here.” 

With regards to Chan Tung, Maiava recommended:

“Noting … the direct involvement of Government’s agents in causing Mr Chan Tung’s situation and woes, the Ombudsman would urge Government, with a view to contributing financially on an ex-gratia basis, to commit to a genuine conversation with Mr Chan Tung, the Development Bank and SLC as appropriate to deal with Mr Chan Tung’s indebtedness to the Development Bank, and if possible and in a manner agreeable to all, to place him on a footing where he could begin again to be a productive person.

“A way forward presents itself should Government choose to salvage the mangrove swamp and to purchase identified plots for that purpose by way of the Taking of Lands Act.  The land owned and sub-divided by Mr Chan Tung in 2002 will undoubtedly be wanted for conservation.  In the taking of lands exercise, fairness and everything else point to the rightness of treating Mr Chan Tung as if there were no problems with his ownership of the land and of paying him on an ex-gratia basis for the 4 acres he purchased and subdivided in 2002 and for which he holds the de-registered Deed of Conveyance.”

If a recommendation by the Ombudsman is rejected by a department the matter may be referred to the Prime Minister and Parliament.