Former Minister of Revenue Māteni Tapueluelu. Photo/Tnews, Youtube

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have updated this story to correct what we have earlier on said that the Tu’i’onetoa government has revoked the decision by the ‘Akilisi Pohiva government to write off unpaid tax debts. In fact, it was the ‘Akilisi government which also made the revocation, according to a statement released by the Tu’i’onetoa government last month.

The former Minister of Revenue and Customs, Mateni Tapueluelu, said the previous Cabinet had agreed to write off about 200 irrecoverable business and personal tax debts.

The debts amounted to more than TP$11 million and Tapueluelu said they had remained unrecovered in the past 10 to 20 years, before he became Minister.

However, the decision was later revoked by the ‘Akilisi government about a week after it was approved in July.

Tapueluelu said before he submitted the proposal to Cabinet 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.

He said he submitted the list to Cabinet after his Ministry sought advice from the Ministry of Justice and an International Monetary Fund consultant.  

The former PTOA minister said governments before the ‘Akilisi government had written off irrecoverable debts up to 2014.

He told TBC the late Prime Minister, ‘Akilisi Pohiva had not approved his list. It was approved when it was submitted a second time by the former Deputy and  Acting Prime Minister, Hon. Semisi Sika.

Tapueluelu rubbished reports by local news and social media claiming that the former government’s write-off decision was made to cancel the debts of PTOA (Democratic Party) members and two family businesses which belonged to former Minister of Labour, Dr Tu’i Uata, and Hon. Sika.

Kele’a newspaper has published part of the list of names of those people with irrecoverable tax debts which had been seen by Kaniva news. It included a late queen, princes, some members of the nobility and some top government figures.

Tapueluelu was responding after Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa announced last month that the former government did not follow proper procedure in deciding to cancel debts to the Revenue Ministry

Tu’i’onetoa said that on July 12 this year 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 debt  have to be submitted to the Secretary for Finance and the Minister for Finance for investigation.

Once that investigation is completed, it was only the Minister for Finance and no one else, who makes recommendations to cabinet whether or not to write off the debt.

In addition, when a submission to write off debts was received by the Ministry of Finance, it was usually referred to the Auditor General’s Office to verify why the debts could not be collected by the reporting agencies.

The Auditor General then reported back to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Finance 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.

For more information

Government did not follow proper procedure in deciding to cancel debts to Revenue Ministry

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