Monday 19th March 2018
A total of thirty eight Members of Parliament including the Hon Speaker met at the Conference Room Media Centre at Parliament‟s temporary precincts at Tuanaimato at 9:30am for the Assembly‟s March Pre-Sitting Briefing. Members were briefed by:
- Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry for Revenue, Matafeo Avalisa Viali- Fautuaalii on the Excise Tax Rates Amendment Bill 2018;
- Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri on the
Tobacco Control Amendment Bill 2018;
- Commissioner of the Electoral Office, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio on: Electoral
Commission Bill 2018, Electoral Bill 2018 and the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018;
- Assistant Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, Luatua Semi Epati on the Pacific Games Office Bill, 2018;
- Attorney General of the Office of the Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff on the
Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2018.
Excise Tax Rates Amendment Bill 2018
Presenter: Matafeo Avalisa Viali- Fatuaalii
Responsible Ministry: Ministry for Revenue
The Bill seeks to amend the Schedule of the Excise Tax Rates Act 1984 (Principal Act) in the Tariffs Items. The main object of the Amendment Bill is to increase the excise tax rates for sugary products (certain alcoholic and non-alcoholic) by 3% from the current excise tax rate charged following the government‟s revenue review completed in 2016.
Queries raised from Members
– Some members noted that the Sacramental wines, Aviation gasoline and Jet fuel were exempted from the increase, why is this the case?
– Others noted that the proposal for increase in excise tax rates, will it increase revenue for the Ministry and help in achieving its targets for the year?
– Another Member cautioned the Ministry on the use of the word “sweetning” as used in the revised schedule could include other substances that are sweet but are not detrimental to the human health.
The Chief Executive in response to the issues raised by members stated that the purpose of the Bill is to not only decrease the consumption of sugary products but also a way in which the Ministry can increase its revenue for the year.
In regards to Sacramental wines, Aviation gasoline and Jet fuel, these have been included in another list, however the issue in which sacramental wines have been excluded is on the basis of its religious purpose.
The Chief Executive Officer, Matafeo Avalisa Viali Fatuaalii also stated that she has noted the ambiguity of the use of the word sweetness and it will be the Ministry‟s responsibility to declare what products are included in the “sweetning” category of the Schedule.
Tobacco and Control Amendment Bill 2018
Presenter: Leausa Dr. Take Naseri
Responsible Ministry: Health
The Bill seeks to amend the Tobacco Control Act 2008 (“Principal Act”). The object of the Bill is to establish a tobacco licensing regime to regulate tobacco licensing fees for manufacturers, importers, distributors, nightclub owners and hotels and to prescribe these tobacco annual licensing fees through Regulations. Such regime includes the establishment of the National Tobacco Control Committee; ensures that no Manufacturer, distributor, importer or retailer of a tobacco product shall provide promotional discounts and internet sales of tobacco products; prohibits a person below the age of 21 from selling any tobacco product; gives the Chief Executive Officer the authority to prescribe the permitted weight and size of cigarette in a packet that is permitted to be sold by retailers; allows the Ministry to conduct testing audits of tobacco products by way of spot testing without notifying manufacturers and importer facilities at the cost of the manufacturer; and requires manufacturers, importers and distributors of tobacco products to be licensed in order to distribute tobacco products.
Queries raised by Members
– A member stated that there are minute diseases as a result of consumption of cigarettes in Samoa compared to Non-communicable diseases caused from unhealthy diet and living, why then such heavy focus on regulating cigarettes when one should focus on promoting balanced diet and healthy living?
– Other members noted that the proposed National Tobacco Control Committee has too many members. The concern is, the inclusion of other representatives from other Ministries will only slow down work completion in individual Ministries thus the recommendation that the Committee should consist of those only working in the Health industry;
– Others also noted that the license fees for tobacco manufacturers, importers is sufficient but would like to raise these fees to a million in the future;
– Another member noted a discrepancy regarding the sale of tobacco and alcohol where retailers selling alcohol are required to have a license yet retailers selling tobacco do not need a license. Members stated that there should be a consistency in the regulation of selling alcohol and tobacco in the country;
– Another member urged the Ministry to look at ways to regulate the supply and purchase of Samoan tobacco.
– A member also noted that there are a lot of monitoring initiatives put forth to ensure the successful implementation of the Bill, the concern is, is there enough members to implement these monitoring systems. The idea of spot check and being paid by the manufacturer themselves is also impossible.
The Chief Executive Officer, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri responded that the Ministry will take note of comments and recommendations the members have put forth regarding the National Tobacco Control Committee as well as efforts to apply consistency in the regulation of selling alcohol and tobacco products by retailers. He also noted that the Bill does not take in to account Samoan tobacco however this should be reflected in an upcoming legislation. In response to the issue of NCD‟s, the Chief Executive assures Members that the majority of Non-communicable diseases in Samoa is caused from smoking thus the initiative to decrease the consumption of tobacco through such legislation.
In regards to spot check, we believe that manufacturers will be willing to pay as it is for a good cause.
Electoral Bill 2018
Presenter: Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio (Electoral Commissioner) Office of the Electoral Commissioner
The Commissioner noted that the Bill seeks to replace the Electoral Act 1963 with the aim to provide a more clear process for the conduct of elections in Samoa. He further stated that the Electoral Bill 2018 is a rewrite of the Electoral Act in more simple terms to provide for easier interpretation and understanding of the provisions of the Bill. The Electoral Commissioner explained that prior to the 2016 General Elections, the Office introduced 5 amendments on the Electoral Act, these amendments included defining boundaries for the Urban seats; providing 5- year transfer for urban voters; providing for powers of the Electoral Commissioner; changes to the Declaration form on residential and village service requirements; establishing a timeframe for challenging a candidate; qualifications for candidacy and others. The Commissioner further stated that the previous amendments infringed on constitutional principles, thus raising the need to address this oversight. Therefore after the 2016 election, the Office was again instructed to establish a Commission of Inquiry to assess the processes during the general election, whereby the proposed Electoral Bill 2018 is the product of one of the recommendations put forth in the Commission of Inquiry‟s report.
The Commissioner generally spoke on the provisions for each of the 18 Parts of the Bill, with particular emphasis on the Parts with new clauses and Parts which appealed to the majority of Members, such as Part 3- Eligibility for Candidacy, and Part 4- Voter Registration and Transfer.
Queries raised by Members
– Members raised their concerns in regards to the new clause 16: exception to the
residential registration rule, stating that it is a breach of freedom of choice. Themembers queried the eligibility of voters residing in Australia/New Zealand who participate in the general elections of Samoa;
– Another Member queried the criteria for determining the eligibility of voters, specifically in regards to foreigners having no knowledge of cultural values and salutations of the constituency he/she is registered in.
– One member queried the basis for disestablishing Special polling booths which were primarily created for convenience to voters who resided in Upolu but registered in Savaii; noting that the Office has mandated the registration of qualified voters, yet have taken away easier access to fulfill the purpose of registering (which is to be able to vote).
– The process of determining the residency of voters was also questioned by members, as well as the use of the country‟s census (as the census is carried out every 5 years therefore, the information can be out-dated)
Although the briefing got heated with countless queries raised by members, the Hon. Speaker spoke with confidence and ease to assure the members that the Bill will be referred to the Committee which is the official stage to voice their concerns and make suggestions to ensure the final Bill reported back to the House has taken account of all relevant factors. The Hon. Speaker then advised the Commissioner to give his response to Member‟s queries, and disregard the generalizations made by members.
In his response the Commissioner stated that the Bill was drafted with the utmost consideration of all fundamental rights, and noted that all rights are limited except for the „right to life‟ which is absolute. The Commissioner then assured the Members that the proposed amendments do not impeach on fundamental rights of individuals. On the issue of determining the eligibility of voters; the primary legislation sought by the Office is the Citizenship Act 2004, if the voter meets the citizenship criteria, he/she is considered an eligible voter. On the same issue of eligibility of voters, the Commissioner confirmed that regardless of how long a Samoan citizen resides in another country, the Office will use the most recent residential address for the voter. The Commissioner further stated that the Bill was drafted based on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry Report. He then proceeded to discuss the objectives of the Office‟s second Bill; the Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018.
Electoral Commission Bill 2018
The Commissioner generally spoke on the objects of the Bill which include the establishment of the Electoral Commission, and to provide for the position of Electoral Commissioner, the terms of appointment, resignation, termination and vacancy of the position of the Electoral Commissioner.
Issues raised by Members
– A Member noted the Terms of Appointment for the Commissioner and stated that this should be changed from 3 – 6years, factoring in the 5 years Parliamentary Terms as the end of contract for the Commissioner would possibly disrupt the Office‟s operations,
– On the same issue of possible disruptions to the Office, it was suggested that a Deputy Commissioner post be established for the Office (with specific reference to the Office of the Legislative Assembly whereby there is a Clerk and a Deputy Clerk).
– Another Member queried the powers of the Commissioner, stating that it should be the responsibility of the Commissioner to determine the eligibility of a candidate, as this duty is shouldered by the candidates contesting for the seat.
The Commissioner took note of the recommendations by the Members and responded in regards to the issue of determining the eligibility of candidates; he stated that there are Statutory Declarations for Judicial Review process which state that all decisions made by public officials is subject to appeal/question.
The Commissioner concluded his presentation on the Bill and continued to the last Bill by the
Office of the Electoral Commissioner.
Electoral Constituencies Bill 2018
The Commissioner explained that the Bill seeks to repeal the Constituencies Act 1963 and to replace with the Electoral Constituencies Act 2018. The Objects of the Bill include: to prescribe 51 electoral constituencies for the purpose of Article 44(1) of the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa 1960; and to prescribe the names of the 51 electoral constituencies that comprise of villages and sub-villages as specified in the Schedule.
The Bill aroused mixed response and concerns from the Members. Those who noted one of the villages in their constituency voiced their disproval and disagreement of the amendment; similarly Members who noted the absence of their constituency (such as the case for Gagaemauga No.3) in the proposed Bill expressed their disappointment and outright rejected the proposal. On the other hand, Members who noted an added seat for their constituency voiced their support and approval towards the Bill. The Hon. Speaker again intervened to assure the Members that the official forum to voice their disagreement was at the Committee stage when the Bill is referred, and pleaded with the Members to keep the peace and be calm the bill has not passed the House yet.
The Commissioner took note of all comments, queries and concerns by the Members; he acknowledged the Hon. Speaker and all Members present at the briefing for their time to be informed about the objectives and principles of the 3 Bills proposed by the Electoral Office and concluded his presentation.
Pacific Games Office Bill 2018
Presenter: Luatua Semi Epati
Responsible Ministry: Education
The Acting Chief Executive Officer, Luatua Semi Epati presented on behalf of the Chief
Executive Officer of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to talk on the Pacific Games
Office Bill 2018. The Bill seeks to establish the Pacific Games Office, who will be responsible for the organizing and management of the 2019 Pacific Games and to provide for other matters incidental to the 2019 Pacific Games. The object of the Bill is: to establish the Pacific Games Office and provide for its functions and powers; to establish the Executive Committee and Pacific Games Organizing Committee and their functions and powers; to provide for official sponsors for the 2019 Pacific Games and to provide for tax and duty exemptions in relation to the 2019 Pacific Games.
Queries raised by Members
– A member queried in regards to Part 7 on the exemption of certain persons from custom duties, who exactly are these people?
– Another member raised an issue on the introduction of the Bill, stating that the Bill should have been brought to Parliament before the Chief Executive Officer for the Pacific Games Office was appointed.
The Acting Chief Executive Officer stated in response to issues raised by the members that the clause in Part 7 refers to athletes that have to bring in their sports equipment for certain games. He also agreed on the point raised by a Member that the Bill should have been brought to Parliament long time however there were some means that were out of their control thus the late submission of the discussed Bill.
Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2018
Presenter: Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff
Responsible Ministry: Attorney General
The Attorney General spoke concerning the Bill and stated that the main Amendment concerns the Judicial Services Commission. The amendment was one of the recommendations put forth by the Special Inquiries Committee for the Lands and Titles Court report tabled in Parliament in
- Originally, the Judicial Services Commission consisted of three members, the Chief Justice, The Attorney General and a representative of the Minister. The Amendment therefore proposes additional 2 members to the Commission: the President of the Lands and Titles Court and a retired Supreme Court Judge be appointed by the Head of State on the advice of the Cabinet. The Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of Justice, Courts and Administration will be the secretary to the Commission. The Attorney General also stated that the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2018 precedes a more detailed Bill which is currently in writing.
Issue raised: age of retired Judge (additional member)
The majority of members supported the initiative to add more members into the Judicial Services Commission however some expressed concerns regarding the retired Judge from the Supreme Court stating that a retired Judge is around the age of 75 and this would pose him or her to be no more fit for the job. Some have recommended, instead of having a retired Judge from the Supreme Court it would seem more fitting to have a member of the Law Society be a member.
Issue raised: Process of Bills
Other members also expressed whether there was a way to ensure that Bills come first before being implemented by Ministries.
The Attorney General stated that the retired Judge would bring a wealth of experience to the Commission. As for statements pinpointing to the Process of Bills, this is something that the Attorney General‟s Office will look into.