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Appropriation bills — including one criticized — signed by governor

Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The two appropriations bills submitted to the Fono for further consideration during its Second Special Session, which ended on April 4, 2024, have been signed by Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga.

The two bills were passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The first one appropriating $36 million of surplus local revenue collected in Fiscal Year 2023 to fund various government projects, was the subject of much criticism by senators and the public, because of the failure of the executive branch to follow due process by first securing the Fono's approval before spending the funds.

Some irate members of the public even called it the "After The Fact Bill" since it was initially submitted in November last year for Fono approval, after the money had already been spent.

Consequently, the Senate rejected the bill and on February 6, 2024, submitted a resolution to the Office of the Attorney General calling "for the AG to petition the court for an Independent Prosecutor, to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the unlawful use of these funds that are in direct violation of Public Law 37-12.”

Last month, the High Court appointed attorney Aaron Warren of the law office of Mooney Wieland and Warren as the Independent Prosecutor to probe violations of the budget law when the executive branch used the $36 million without the Fono’s approval

In his remarks during the opening of the Second Special Session, Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean declared that the Senate will accept the governor’s request to approve the $36 million bill, now that the AG has submitted his petition to the High Court for an Independent Prosecutor to investigate the matter.

The breakdown of the funds according to the Special Session agenda is as follows

1. $21.5 million is for infrastructure projects in Tutuila and Aunuu

2. $10.4 million for infrastructure projects in the Manu’a islands

3. $2.5 million for the local match for Medicaid and

4. $1.5 million is to pay back US Treasury covid funding that ASG used to purchase the MV Pago Pago, that was deemed an unallowable cost.

The second appropriation bill signed by Governor Lemanu appropriates $700,000 of unobligated and unexpended revenues from Fiscal Year 2022 to supplement the FY 2024 budget.

This amount has been earmarked to fund American Samoa's participation in the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture slated for June in Hawaii and the Samoa Heritage Week also in the Sunshine State.

However, unlike the first bill, this one does not give a breakdown of the specific amounts set aside for each event.

Governor Lemanu thanked the leaders and members of the two chambers for the favorable review of the bills and expressed his hope that they will "continue to work together to address the needs of our territory.”