Monday 6th March
Thirty nine Members of Parliament, including the Hon Speaker, met at the Tuanaimato Sports Complex today at 9:00am for their usual bi-monthly Member’s Pre Sitting Briefing. The Chief Executive for the Ministry for Revenue; the Assistant Police Commissioner; Chief Executive for the Gambling & Control Authority (TAB), and the Assistant Executive Officer, Legal & Investigations Division for the Public Service Commission, provided overviews of the objectives and contents of four bills to be introduced in the House tomorrow, Tuesday 7th March. A summary of these presentations and the main issues raised by Members is provided.
- Tax Information Exchange Amendment Bill 2017
Presenter: Avalisa Viali-Fautuaalii, Chief Executive
Responsible Ministry: Ministry for Revenue
The Chief Executive for Ministry for Revenue spoke on the background of the bill before Members raised questions. Members raised various concerns over the bill; for example, whether multilateral agreements would override bilateral agreements Samoa has already signed; and whether potential investors would be discouraged from investing in Samoa owing to automatic access by overseas partners to financial documents. The Chief Executive stated that multilateral and bilateral agreements serve different purposes, and therefore one cannot override the other. In response to the query about the confidentiality of information, Avalisa stated that the proper mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that information released to financial institutions will not be used for fraudulent purposes.
Many Members voiced mixed opinions on the bill, with many stating that they were unsure as to the safety of information to be exchanged, in particular for the safety of local businesses. The Chief Executive assured Members that these concerns have been noted by the Ministry, and stated that there is a committee, comprised of the Ministry for Revenue, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Commerce, Industry and Labour, and the Ministry for Finance and the CBS and SIFA. This committee will be responsible for ensuring all safety measures have been cleared before the exchange of any information takes place. Avalisa emphasised that the bill permits the exchange of tax information for financial institutions, not all investors. She further stated that information cannot be released without relevant financial statements, as tax returns cannot be conducted without the aforementioned.
- Police Powers Amendment Bill 2017
Presenter: Fauono Talalelei Tapu, Assistant Police Commissioner
Responsible Ministry: Ministry of Police & Prisons
The Assistant Commissioner reiterated the objectives of the proposed amendment bill. Members then queried the Assistant Commissioner as to various aspects of the bill. Issues raised by Members included whether or not the authority to give approval on arming the police should come from the Minister and the Attorney General. Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi stated that such advice should not come from the Attorney General, but rather from the Police Commissioner to the Minister.
Another issue raised was the expiration date of approvals for police officers carrying weapons. The Member for Falealili East stated that the timeframe should be ‘specific’, and that once a case is closed all weapons should be returned on a specific date, to avoid police officers being armed unnecessarily. The Member for Aiga le Tai queried who would be responsible for any accidents during investigations involving armed police persons; the Deputy Speaker stated in his capacity as a former police officer, that it depends on who instigated the incident, and whether or not it was a case of self defence.
The majority of members noted their support of the bill.
- Casino & Gambling Control Amendment Bill 2017
Presenter: Tuala Tamaalelagi Siaki Tuala II, Chief Executive
Responsible Ministry: Gambling& Control Authority (TAB)
The Chief Executive, Tuala, clarified the objectives of the amendment bill and stated that it essentially seeks to add an additional 12 months to permit the TAB to carry out its powers, duties and functions as stipulated in Section 92 of the Principal Act.
Member queries included whether or not a time period of 12 months was sufficient or not as there had been two previous amendments for time extensions to the exact same clause. The Chief Executive stated that the proposed time frame was sufficient as the TAB’s functions and powers would cease to be effective within this time period. Hon Faumuina Tiatia Faaolatane Liuga queried where funds received by the office were directed to; the CEO stated that funds acquired are normally donated to sports and charity organisations (rugby, cricket, hockey, Nuanua o le Alofa, SVSG etc.). Another Member queried how many licensed casino establishments were currently operating in the country, to which the CEO stated that there was only 1 operational licensed casino in Samoa at this time.
- Public Service Amendment Bill 2017
Presenter: Anastacia Amoa, Assistant Chief Executive – Legal & Investigations Division
Responsible Ministry: Public Service Commission
The Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Anastacia Amoa, reiterated the contents of the bill, noting its overarching objective as providing Cabinet with the authority to determine Assistant Chief Executive Officer (ACEO) appointments within the public service. The majority of Members present noted their opposition to the bill. The main reason for Member disapproval of the bill was the assertion that to permit Cabinet influence in such decision making is to invariably politicize these positions (noting that Chief Executive positions are ‘political positions’). Members noted that Cabinet decisions were appropriate for Chief Executive positions, but would not be appropriate for lower positions.
Other issues raised by Members included the proposed function of the Public Service Commissioner and the two Deputy Commissioners, if such decisions were to be re-directed to Cabinet. Others queried the reasons why such a bill would be proposed, querying whether there was an existing dysfunction in the recruitment processes utilized by the Commission. Many Members queried why many panel decisions for various public service appointments, are subsequently overturned by the Commission.
Some Members however, such as Aumua Isaia Lameko and Leaana Ronnie Posini noted their support for the bill. Aumua stated that the amendment will also apply to all contract workers, including project consultants and school principals. He further noted that under the Principal Act, the Commission is presently given the authority to appoint any person which they feel has the most merit of various positions. Leaana stated that the intervention by Cabinet could possibly resolve historical differences between the Commission and various Ministries, as to successful ACEO applicants.
Members unanimously agreed that owing to the importance of the proposed amendment, thorough discussion should be carried out in the House, with Members to note their strong opposition to the bill and the reasons for such opposition as was discussed in today’s briefing.