Budget Director and Treasurer reminded that all spending must be approved by the Fono — before a check is written
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — As soon as the Budget Director Catherine Saelua and ASG Treasurer Malemo Tausaga, stated that they have the funding in place for the Fono’s salary increase, the Senate and House Joint Budget Hearing Committee called for a change of agenda, putting the salaries increase bill aside and instead moving to bring forward the review of the $17 million Supplementary Budget that was scheduled for the next day.
The pair was supposed to appear again on Thursday, Sept 21, 2023, for a review of the budget supplementary, and agreed to the change of agenda.
The $17 Mil, according to the committee, is recorded in the performance report but it doesn’t show how it was spent, and it should have.
Malemo told the committee that this is not new, and has happened in all Administrations, with all governors and with all government budgets, like what happened for Manu’a.
(He is referring to the earthquake tremors that happened in Manu’a, in July 2022 — causing the emergency evacuation of many of the Manu’a residents to Tutuila, as well as fulfilling other emergency issues in the Manu’a islands.)
He confirmed that these funds aren't a part of the 2023 budget, but due to an increase in government revenues — “they have a lot of money right now” — and as a part of his job, the money, the $17 million, is being used for ‘roads already paved’ — that is, the funds have already been spent or paid out on government ’needs’.
Senator Utu Sila Poasa, who is co-chair of the Committee, insisted that the Administration can only use what's been approved in the Budget. That's all they can use, and if this is how money is being spent (by the government), then he is concerned.
The annual budget is like that from year-to-year, but there is a way to handle such spendings; and, noted that this has been a practice of Administrations from the past, that they freely use money without authority from the Houses, Utu stated.
He reminded Saelua about the advice given to her when their proposed 2024 budget was presented — If there was a loss in the past years, never mind, move forward and look after what we have now.
Utu continued by telling Malemo that it appears — like when revenue collection rises — then they freely spend. He said that is not how a government is supposed to be run. Spend wisely, then blessings continue for the government.
If there were wrongs in the past, then today we must correct it, he pushed.
In turn, Malemo referred to the emergency needs of Manu'a, where the government had to act right away.
He admitted that the Committee was right, but also said the government monitors its quarterly economy, and hence a supplementary to cover the $17Mil (already expended).
The exchange between the Joint Committee Vice Chair and Treasurer continued with Utu saying, "I believe if this money has been used already, then I need a report, and let's work together.”
Malemo interjected, “Our government is one…” and the report will be provided, which includes the Senator’s bills in the budget.
Sen. Utu replied that after a done job, then follows a bill, and accused the Treasurer of creating the supplementary as a cover up.
The Treasurer in turn told the Committee that the government is doing well, but the language being used is inappropriate for leaders, and accusing the government isn't right when the Administration is progressing well.
“This is a government for all and they need to work together,” argued Malemo.
Senator Soli'ai Tuipeni told the Treasurer to calm down as “you don't take a banana bunch (aufa’i) without permission”. It's a no, no for the government to use (money) without channeling it first through the Fono. The Fono always supports, therefore let's all follow the law, he said.
Utu reminded all, that '"we are following the line, but I need a report on how the money was spent as its not recorded in the budget."
Also, he asked about a $1.5Mil recorded in the quarterly performance report.
Malemo explained that $1.5Mil of COVID-19 funds was used to buy Lauli’i’s boat but the US government has asked for that money to be paid back, and it's been done.
Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean told the ASG Budget Director and Treasurer that the reason for them being called in, is to explain the reason behind the repayment of the $1.5Mil.
Malemo told the Committee that before the new Administration came in, there was already an investigation on this issue — and that means the government was wrong, adding that he was not involved in making the decision.
However, Tuaolo reminded Malemo of his involvement in the payment plan of September 2023 — asking where the money came from.
"Local funding," responded Malemo.
The Senate President pointed out a report from the Inspector General that noted a repayment plan from the Treasurer’s office being paid in September 2023; and asked, “Did you come through the Fono?”
"That would also be included in the supplementary, the $1.5 " Malemo said.
The President then turned to the Budget Director, who said, some things come to her office but some go directly to the Treasurer, like the $1.5Mil.
Tuaolo put it to Malemo that no one is saying that he stole the money, but money of any amount should go through the Fono because such issues may lead to the need to create avenues like taxes to pay for it.
The pair was reminded by the Committee, to come up with reports. on how the funds were spent.
Since last Friday, Samoa News has been reporting on the $1.5Mil that the OIG said needed to be repaid as it was “not a necessary expenditure in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
OIG reported that as of Sept. 07, 2023, about $1 million of the expenditure had been repaid.
As reported by OIG, the first payment for the MV Pago Pago was on September 17, 2020, which was prior to the COVID-19 Task Force Chairman’s COVID-19 ERF signed approval on September 18, 2020. The report does not identify by name the owner of the vessel.
ASG subsequently made a second and third payment on October 7, 2020, and October 28, 2020, respectively, according to the OIG audit.
The report does not name the COVID-19 Task Force Chairman that signed the approval.
From Samoa News archives, it’s noted that in March 2020, the COVID- 19 Task Force was led by chair Iulologologo Joseph Perieira, the governor’s executive assistant, and two co-chairs, LBJ chief executive officer, Faumuina John Faumuina and Heath director Motusa Tuileama Nua. All were appointed by then Gov. Lolo Moliga.
The report also does not identify the funding used to pay the US federal government back.
Samoa News understands that the MV Pago Pago vessel continues to be owned by ASG.