ASG Treasurer realigns personnel Appoints new Chief of Customs — for the 3rd time
The Department of Treasury has appointed a new Chief of Customs, Moetulu’i Sipili Fuiava replacing Lee Agava’a Fa’alili Lele’a. The appointment of Moetulu’i was announced in a Memorandum issued by Treasury earlier this week, making several changes to the Customs office.
Lele'a has been transferred to the Immigration office. He was recently retired from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after 26 years and 7 months of service as a Special Agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), formerly the U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ Pili stated in the memo that as Customs moves forward into the new year, they remain cognizant of their responsibilities and ensuring the protection of government revenue, calling for personnel realignment and designees in said memo.
Also according to the memo, Loloaso Easter Wightman Uia is assigned as Deputy Chief of Customs, Konelio Tufele has been promoted to Customs Executive Administrative Assistant and Fa’atauva’a Uitualagi is now the Customs Finance/Compliance Officer.
The Treasurer told Samoa News Moetulu’i has experience in Customs, but did not elaborate.
Dr. Falema’o stated Fuiava as Chief Customs Officer will be charged with overall operations of Customs to ensure management and oversight of all sections within the customs division and that all reports are completed in a timely manner. The Chief Customs Officer will also work with the Deputy and management staff to ensure the support structure is there for the division.
Additionally, Fuiava is to work closely with the Treasurer in all aspects and provide weekly updates. Most importantly, the new Chief of Customs will complete the revision of the Standard Operating Procedures for the Customs Division says the memo.
For the Deputy Chief, Falema’o noted that she will work with Chief Customs to ensure continuity of all daily operations and that support is provided to the staff. She is to work with Tufele to carry out day to day operations.
According to the memo, Tufele’s responsibilities will include but are limited to the “daily and bi-weekly scheduling of our resources to ensure we are following the Executive Directive with our scheduling and swing shift. Tufele, whose been with Customs for eight years, is also assigned to the day to day operations and office management of the staff and its resources. He’s part of the management team to help provide structure and assistance to carry out the Customs and Treasury mandate, says the memo.
Uitualagi is the newest member of the Customs office who is the Finance and Compliance officer and will work with Chief Fuiava and the management staff to review both past and current billing and identity deficiencies to recoup the obligations owed to the government and assist with all new future declarations and billings to ensure that all applicable taxes are accounted.
“His other duties will be to provide the necessary support for the daily operations and financial matters with respect to Customs operations.”
The Treasurer noted the realignment and designee assignments are effective immediately, and “we must each do our part to ensure our mandates are carried out, [and] communication between the staff and leaders are conducted in a supportive manner.”
The position of Chief Customs has gone through its third Chief since the new administration took office, following the removal of former Chief Vaetagaloa Glen Lefiti last August for failing to immediately inform his boss, Treasurer Dr. Falema’o about an incident involving a customs officer, who picked up a package from the Post Office after bypassing a customs inspection.
Vaetagaloa fought his case before the Administrative Law Judge who ruled in his favor citing while he did commit negligence and gross misjudgment for not reporting the incident involving a customs officer, termination in this case was not appropriate.
Vaetagaloa was also to be suspended for 30 days, sometime during the first 6 months of his reinstatement. He chose to take it right away, and it has since been served.
ASG then filed an appeal, however it has since been withdrawn and former Attorney General Afoa L Suesue Lutu instructed the Treasurer to reinstate Vaetagaloa as Chief of Customs, as per order or ruling of the ALJ.
However, the Treasurer responded that his reasons for not reinstating Vaetagaloa was twofold:
1) To protect the integrity of the customs operations and Lefiti’s rights, as well as those of his fellow customs officers.
2) There is an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Internal Affairs of the Department of Public Safety and in coordination with the AG’s criminal division with the other customs officer (Maluia), and it was this incident that gave rise to the suspension of Lefiti and that his reassignment to the Analytic Unit was in the best interest of all concerned.