PM concerns after Kaniva reveals royals and nobles among people with TOP$11m unpaid tax debts; top gov’t officials ask not to publish their names

    A follow-up story published by Kaniva news on Tuesday saying royalty, nobles and top government figures were among people named on a list of TOP$11 million irrecoverable tax has concerned the Prime Minister.

    The revelation that the list of names of those with unpaid businesses and personal tax debts had been leaked to us has also concerned some top government officials.

    We said on Tuesday that Kele’a newspaper had published part of the list of names of those people with irrecoverable unpaid tax debts. Kaniva also received a copy of the list.  

    Kaniva did not publish the names on the list.

    However, we said the list included a late queen, princes, some members of the nobility, some top government figures and local businesses.

    Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa wrote to us this morning and said the list had to go through a “verification” process by the Auditor General who needed to talk to people with overdue tax debts.

    He said these people needed to give their side of the story to the Auditor General.  

    Hon Tu’i’onetoa said there were a number of things to do before any names with amounts of unpaid tax debts could be listed as irrecoverable.

    He previously said in a statement the leaked list has not followed this process.  

    The Prime Minister claimed the “nobles” did not ask to write off their debts.

    He has accused the former Minister of Revenue and Customs Mateni Tapueluelu for failing to follow the proper legal process to write off the debts.

    Hon Tu’i’onetoa wanted to know the names of those legal consultants from whom MP Tapueluelu said he sought advice before submitting the list to Cabinet to write off the debts.

    As we reported this week, MP Tapueluelu told TBC he submitted the list to Cabinet after his Ministry sought advice from the Ministry of Justice and an International Monetary Fund consultant.

    Top government officials concerns

    Meanwhile, some top government officials and public figures have written to us asking not to publish their names.

    They echoed the same concerns with which the Prime Minister has raised.

    One of them said he heard that his name was on the leaked list, but he had yet to receive a tax notice from the Ministry of Revenue on that alleged debt.

    He also sent to us two copies of letters from the Ministry of Revenue.

    One was a notice of assessment dated on September 2016 with an amount he owed to the Ministry.

    The other was a copy of a receipt which appeared to show the money he owed had been paid in June 2019.

    The leaked list has been shared on social media this week and caused public concerns and clashes between the PTOA (Democrats) supporters and royal advocates.

    It came after reports by some local media outlets and Facebook groups accusing the former PTOA government of proposing the write-off as a way of cancelling debts belonged to businesses owned by families of the former Deputy and Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika and former Minister of Trade and Economic Development Dr Tu’i Uata.

    MP Tapueluelu has denied this and said he was told by the Ministry’s staff, including the CEO, that the Ministry routinely wrote off debts that had not been recovered within five years.    

    As we have reported several times in the past month, Tu’i’onetoa said that on July 12 this year the late ‘Akilisi Pohiva’s Cabinet agreed to a proposal from the Minister of Revenue and Customs to write off debts of unpaid tax and duties due to the Ministry for the period of 2004-2014.

    He said the former Minister for Finance, Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa, was not present at the Cabinet meeting when the submission was made and that he later advised Cabinet that the proper legal process to write off debts had not been followed.

    According to Section 41 of the Public Finance Management Act, proposals to write off debts have to be submitted to the Secretary for Finance and the Minister for Finance for investigation.

    Once that investigation is completed, only the Minister for Finance and no one else recommends to Cabinet whether or not to write off the debt.

    When a submission to write off debts is received by the Ministry of Finance, it is usually referred to the Auditor General’s Office to verify why the debts cannot be collected by the reporting agencies.

    The Auditor General then reports back to the Minister of Finance who reports to Cabinet as to whether the debt is to be written off or not.

    On July 17 the late ‘Akilisi’s Cabinet decided to go back on its decision.

    A government spokesman said no debts had been written off and the Ministry of Finance had not received any submission from the Ministry of Revenue and Customs.

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