Customs and Excise boss caught for breaking country’s financial laws
THE Comptroller of Customs, Jim Sutton, has once again being put on the spotlight for allegedly breaking the law by creating an ‘unauthorised’ commercial bank account in which proceeds of vehicles sold by public auction conducted by Customs are deposited.
At the same time, Mr. Sutton whose two-year contract is said to have lapsed last month – may have also broken the law by donating four Caldina Vehicles to the Office of the Prime Minister, confidential documents obtained by Solomon Star have revealed.
Mr. Sutton was contacted this week but his Office said he was away in Noro, Western Province on matters relating to his work.
According to the documents, five vehicles sold between November last year and March this year have earned the bank account with Bank South Pacific (BSP) some $274, 000. This money should have been deposited into the designated government account at the Central Bank of Solomon Islands (CBSI).
But instead, the money was deposited into the BSP Account, Account Number: 2001203943, the confidential documents show.
This and other serious allegations have been reported to the Office of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Solomon Islands, urging the newly established anti-corruption body to investigate.
Solomon Star has obtained a copy of the letter, dated 27th July 2021, which contained “allegations of gross misconduct and sexual harassment against the current Comptroller of Customs & Excise Mr. Jim Sutton.”
Eight allegations were listed in the letter, including one of sexual harassment.
“As head of Customs the Comptroller of Customs is both an Accountable Officer and an Accounting Officer as stipulated in the Public Finance Management Act 2013 (PFMA).
“Mr. Sutton however upon his appointment has not performed in a manner appropriate to what is expected of him, the letter addressed to the Director General of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Solomon Islands, said.
Mr. Sutton was alleged to have uttered impolite remarks to a female Customs staff. Such remarks made during working hours were offensive and a disrespect in Solomon Islands cultures, especially married women.
“This case has been part of the Customs staff petition to oust Mr. Sutton.”
The letter claimed that Mr. Sutton was implicated in the sale of Customs Vehicle with registered number G4220 to an unknown buyer.
“It is not known as to how much the vehicle was sold for as there is no evidence of the proceeds of sale being received by the government. The vehicle, a Pajero V8 has been allocated a new registration number MC 5334 by the buyer.
“In doing so, Mr. Sutton has breached the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act 2013 section 22(1) (2)(a), 24.
“Mr. Sutton has failed to account for or authorised the non-deposit of revenue from five vehicles tendered between November 2020 and March 2021 into the designated government bank account at the CBSI.
“The revenue amounted to $274, 000 is believed to have been deposited into an account number 2001203943 BSP under an account named, “Customs Revenue Holding Account. This act contradicts the Public Finance and Management Act 2013 Sections 22(1)(2)(a), and Section 24,” the letter said.
Some said the BSP account now holds some $4 million – a huge leakage on government finance.
This however could not be independently verified.
“In the normal process such revenue should be received by the Customs Cashier and deposited into the designated bank account with CBSI. This is a clear breach of the PFMA 2013 sections 22(1)(2)(a) and section 24,” the letter said.
“Unauthorised creation of Account No. 2001203943 at the BSP … is a duplication of an account under the same name held at the ANZ bank. This is a clear breach of the PFMA 2013 Section 40(2) and 41,” the letter said.
The letter also claimed the use of “unauthorised process of Receipts” in recording of revenue collected during vehicle tenders.
Solomon Star has obtained a list of vehicles which were auctioned during public tenders. There were 19 lots.
Other documents showed that some vehicles were cleared by owners while the tender was in process but there was no record of names for verification of receipts. Lots 17, 18 and 19 fell under the same description.
This is now the second time Mr. Sutton has come under fire from within. The first time, he won the tussle, but this time he may not be so lucky.
By ALFRED SASAKO