Treasurer credits reshuffling of customs agents for consistent collections
ASG Treasurer Falema'o Dr. Phil Pili says that a major reshuffling of customs agents has resulted in the government receiving more than $10 million in revenues for five months.
According to the Treasury Department’s third quarter performance report covering the period of Apr. 1- June 30, 2013, under program accomplishments, the Customs Division — without a Chief Customs Officer — was still able to meet its $2 million a month revenue collection goal.
The report says the Customs Division collected during the third quarter, revenues totaling $6.4 million (or $6,402,242) for an average monthly collection of $2,134,081 — surpassing their $2 million monthly goal.
In an interview with the Samoa News, Falema'o said that according to past recorded revenues, the Customs Division reached their $2 million goal at least three times. However, from April to August, Customs reached their monthly goal of $2 million consistently.
"It's obvious there was a lot of excise taxes slipping through the cracks, meaning either customs agents were not applying the mandated taxes/fees… or they were vulnerable to bribery and corruption," Falema'o said. "Also, we failed to execute the fee structure that's been in place and mandated by statute, and we're finally stopping those leakages and implementing what we need to."
At the same time, he continued, "we're shifting personnel around… we're weeding out customs agents who are lacking integrity."
Falema'o said Customs is the core of collecting for government revenues and "we need honest people with good work ethics in these positions to ensure that government revenues are coming in as they are suppose to, and not heading somewhere else."
He explained agents have been reshuffled, and there is a new team at the main Customs office, the airport, and the wharf, with inspection teams for the containers.
He said the agents have improved in following procedures and applying the statute requiring members of the public to pay taxes and fees on items that should be charged.
"However, there are still a few who are not following the mandates of the statute and those people will be dealt with accordingly," Falema'o said. He declined to comment further or provide details on the matter, noting that ongoing investigations are underway.
Falema'o is sending out a stern warning against business people who have or will attempt to bribe customs officers. This time, he said, the Treasury Department will file criminal complaints with the Department of Public Safety against business owners offering bribes to the customs agents.
"This must stop," Falema'o warns "It only gets you in trouble, along with the customs agent."
Falema'o points out that when he first came on board as Treasurer, he automatically terminated the usual practice of customs agents receiving a bonus of $300 per agent for about 20 agents upon reaching $2 million in revenues on a monthly basis. He said the government was spending more than $6,000 on these people, on top of their salary. The Treasurer says he's looking at creating an incentive for the customs agents, but not a bonus.
He said there are a lot of loyal customs agents who are working diligently to protect revenues for the government.
ACTING CHIEF OF CUSTOMS
Falema'o has appointed Loloaso Easter Wightman-Uia as Acting Chief of Customs and she has served in this capacity for several weeks.
Wightman-Uia was appointed to her current role due to former Chief of Customs Vaetagaloa Glen Lefiti beng reassigned to work temporarily in the Analytic Unit under the Treasury Department.
Vaetagaloa was re-assigned after allegations surfaced that he, in his role as Chief of Customs, failed to take action in a “high risk” matter that took place under his watch. The issue came to light when allegations were made involving a Customs Officer — later identified as Francis Maluia — allegedly removing a package from the US Post Office that had been under surveillance for 30 days by the Custom Office, after a K9 Customs dog had alerted to the package, indicating the presence of drugs.
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