2023 $36 million surplus already spent without Fono authorization
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Surplus funds from FY 2023 totaling $36 million have already been used by the administration without prior authorization from the Fono.
This is what Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean told members last Friday morning before their session.
Senate members had been joined earlier that morning by members of the House of Representatives in a joint hearing of the Budget and Appropriations Committee for further discussion of LBJ Hospital’s proposed budget for FY 2024.
After much deliberation, the committee agreed to override their earlier decision to approve just the first quarter budget for LBJ Hospital based on the FY 2023 budget, and instead approved a budget of $85 million for LBJ which was the amount that was included in the original budget bill submitted by the administration.
The lawmakers all agreed that LBJ submit a supplemental budget request later.
After the joint hearing, Tuaolo asked Senate members to remain seated because he had important information that he wanted to impart before their regular session got underway.
The Senate president began by saying that he and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale had met with Governor Lemanu P. S. Mauga on Thursday and the governor had divulged some very important issues.
“In keeping with protocol of this chamber, any important issue the governor conveys to leaders of the Fono, must be conveyed to members of both chambers before those issues are discussed officially during our regular sessions,” Tuaolo stated.
“The first issue is the supplemental budget bill that will be submitted next week by the administration, which is for a total of $36 million of surplus funds from FY 2023.
“That $36 million, which will be submitted for your approval, has already been spent.
“We will wait for the details of the breakdown of these funds, but that was what we were told in our meeting on Thursday.”
He revealed that two supplemental bills will be submitted by the administration next week Monday (today).
“When the books for FY 2022 were closed, there was a surplus of $22 million,” Tuaolo said. “That $22 million surplus will be submitted as a supplemental bill for FY 2024.”
Tuaolo told Senate members that he is very concerned about this issue because it involves a lot of government funds, and that he spent a sleepless night tossing and turning because of this.
He said this was the reason why he wanted to inform them of this matter so that they would have a full understanding when the supplemental bills are submitted on Monday.
The second issue discussed in their meeting with the governor was the ground-breaking ceremony for the American Samoa Consulate Office in Samoa which will be built on land acquired by ASG at Taumeasina in Moata’a village, a stone’s throw away from the renowned Taumeasina Resort.
The ceremony is set to take place on Tuesday (in Samoa) after White Sunday.
The third issue was the Samoa Talks, which will resume that same week with the two delegations traveling to Savaii on Wednesday (in Samoa) where the Talks will be held, returning on Friday.
There was a stunned silence as Senate members digested the information Tuaolo had imparted, then Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga expressed his apprehension at the way the Lemanu Administration had bypassed protocol and used such a big amount of funds.
“I am very sad at the turn of events,” said the Manu’a senator. “It is clear that the governor and his administration have violated the law by not seeking Fono approval of the funds.
“This same mentality was shown by government Treasurer Malemo Tausaga when he appeared before the Budget and Appropriation Committee, in which he casually said that part of the $17 million in the supplemental bill 2023 had already been used.”
Malaepule also brought to the chamber’s attention what was happening in Manu’a where he said the government was tearing down and flattening people’s lands without the consent of the families who own these lands.
The government say that it is part of the requirements of federally funded programs to build shelters for people in times of cyclones and other natural disasters.
Senator Togiola T.A. Tulafono also expressed his concerns on the way the current administration was doing things, saying it wasn’t something trivial and that the matter was indeed very serious.
“I was of the thought that the running of government affairs would go smoothly with the cooperation of the administration and the Fono,” Togiola said. “In fact, that is the whole idea the Constitution stipulates that the power is shared equally by the three branches of government. That is, to prevent the administration from having too much power, the Constitution says that government funds and the way they will be used shall be approved and appropriated by the Fono.
“I urge the Fono to investigate where and how this problem came about and do something to prevent it from happening again. Because if we don’t do something about it, then future administrations will not hesitate to do it because they will think it’s easy.
“The other reason I’m very saddened by this issue, is because our people are having to put up with the rising cost of living and I’m hearing talk that some people are playing with government money.
“I urge the Fono to investigate this matter thoroughly and find out the reason for this problem and if someone is involved in anything unlawful with regard to government funds.”
Tuaolo reiterated that this was why he had informed them of this matter because $36 million was a lot of money. He also revealed that included in these funds was the $1.5 million payment for the boat which government bought from a local businessman.
“I am worried the people of this Territory will ask if we had known of these discrepancies and not acted to do the right thing,” Tuaolo point out. “Because it is clear the law was broken, and someone should go to jail for it.”
The Senate regular session starts at 9 o’clock this morning.
Samoa News should point out that there are now three (3) supplemental budgets being mentioned: the $17million that they discussed on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, and the two supplementals brought up by Tuaolo on Friday, Sept. 22 2023 — $22 million surplus from FY 2022 and the $36 million from FY 2023.
Malemo, on Thursday noted that the $17 million supplemental was for money the government has already expended. And, on Friday, Tuaolo indicated that the $36 million supplemental was for money already spent too. However, the $22 million was not identified as having already been used.
The Senate or Fono is then waiting for details of the breakdown for all three supplementals.