Cabinet Meeting: Budget planning and scaled down Flag Day 2021 celebrations
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — At last week’s cabinet meeting, Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga gave directors an April timeline to begin planning for the 2022 Budget submission and a strategic “spending plan” for all grant and COVID funding.
He and Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale also discussed the government’s success in managing COVID and strategies for rolling out further safeguards for the territory and specific updates from various departments, according to a press release issued this week Monday.
The governor made it clear that the administration should always be strategic in devising the best way to use Federal Government funds effectively and transparently as a collective.
Funds not used may have to be handed back. “I encourage you to work closely with the Federal Government to help them understand our needs and how they can help. The vast majority of lawmakers in Washington have never been to American Samoa or know anything about us. It is our job as leaders to help them understand who we are and our local issues.” Lemanu told the cabinet.
Addressing the roll backs and the controversy surrounding it, the governor said, “There have been unauthorized pay raises since 2019, but the roll back process has been put in place to help right the ship.”
Lt. Gov. Talauega told directors, “If you have not seen the bigger picture yet, this has been the Governor’s priority since day zero, holding each other accountable for all our actions, our theme is accountability. Hold your workers to a higher standard of accountability, and remember that their performance is a reflection of your leadership.”
Another priority that the Governor mentioned since the beginning of this Administration is to make sure to, “Pay your workers, and pay them on time. Pay those who are serving our Territory tirelessly. This is very important to me and the Lt. Governor. If I cannot live off of my salary and military benefits, how can I expect someone working for $12k- $16k a year? Also, pay off our debts.”
Lemanu also pointed out that the morning traffic in Nuuuli needs to be addressed and mentioned that a conducive solution would be for departments to decentralize their services away from the town area.
The Governor stated, “If we spread some of our services and offices away from town and begin to place workers in some of these offices and closer to where they live, it will eliminate the traffic during rush hour.”
The Director of Human and Social Services explained how the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program would start looking at processing food stamp benefits directly onto their cards. Currently, EBT cards are used primarily for WIC benefits. Director Suisala is hopeful that this program will help lighten foot traffic and large crowds around the main DHSS offices in Utulei.
FLAG DAY 2021
Secretary of Samoan Affairs PC Mauga presented to the Governor and Lt. Governor a scaled-down celebration for the 121st American Samoa Flag Day. The Office of Samoan Affairs has recommended a “celebration within policy constraints”, due to COVID-19 restrictions and repatriation efforts.
The Department of Human Resources (DHR) reported on the current status of the ASG Rollback and the explanation of the revised pay scale. Director Pulou stated that the DHR has confidence in its training programs and procedures for handling each case.
During a Department of Health (DOH) update on COVID-19 vaccination and testing, they reported nearly 47% of our total population are vaccinated. Dr. Aifili also stated that American Samoa ranks No. 1 in the US for vaccination rates per capita and ranks in the Top 5 worldwide.
DOH and PORT had discovered a total of 6 positive COVID-19 cases on incoming vessels. DOH conducted appropriate actions and followed measures to isolate personnel and minimize contact with anyone onshore. These cases did not count towards American Samoa’s list of positive cases.
DOH has plans to extend vaccinations further out than the sentinel sites, like the “drive-thru” on March 13, 2021, and later hopefully provide vaccinations out to the villages.
TSUNAMI WARNING AFTER ACTION
Director Samana focused on the breakdown of communication during last week’s Tsunami warning event. “As you all know, Bluesky and ASTCA were not able to manage the sheer volume of calls per minute that led to phone lines crashing during last week’s event,” mentioned Samana. “So we will be moving cabinet members that qualify as emergency first responders to the FirstNet Emergency Response phones. Each Director will receive a secondary NOAA radio as well. FirstNet will not be affected by the volume of regular calls that would generally flood and crash the phone networks.”
The governor said, “I want to personally recognize the Office of Samoan Affairs for getting out and reaching out to the Pulenu’u to ring bells and warn residents to evacuate. This is the old way of doing things, and when phone lines and warning systems fail, we need to act on what we know.
“This FirstNet is great, but if that technology goes down, we can always rely on the Pulenu’u to get the word out.”
The Governor continued, “I also commend the school children of Pago Pago, who did not wait for a Pulenu’u, but rang the bells themselves, alerting families to move further up and away from the shore.
“This should be an example of Lotonuu alive and well here in American Samoa,” he stated.
Legal Counsel for the Governor spoke about the “rules reform program” that the Office of the Secretary of American Samoa will be carrying out.
The project will require quite a bit of coordination with each Department’s rules reform point of contact, with initial training to be expected soon.
The Territorial Audit Office also presented that they are continuing their responsibility to carry out audits of every Department, Office, and Agency.