Candidates weigh in on increasing the number of Fono session days
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the questions from the public raised during the second gubernatorial forum hosted by the American Samoa Bar Association asked if legislative session days should be increased from the current 90-session days a year — as stated in the American Samoa Constitution.
A similar question has been raised over the years and according to Samoa News archives, it has been discussed in the Fono as well in the past with at least two attempts to put the issue to voters through a referendum, but it went no where. And in this election year, it has surfaced again.
“Issues requiring legislative attention and approval have increased. Legislature only goes into session for 90-days per year. Should legislative session time be increased?” was the question posed to three of the four gubernatorial teams.
The Gaoteote and Fai’ivae team weren’t able to attend due to a prior commitment.
NUA AND SATELE
Responding in Samoan, candidate for governor, Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua said the Nua and Satele team supports increasing legislative session days. “Why?” he asked and answered — that it’s because there are more days out of the year that the Fono is not in session than the days that they are working.
He claims that there are many bill — including several important measures — in the Fono that lawmakers weren’t able to address due to limited session-days and therefore there’s a need to add more legislative session days.
He said that the public should be asked if the current 90-days is sufficient for the Fono to address all legislative matters, and noted that the Constitution will need to be amended if more days are added.
Candidate for lieutenant governor, Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., said that as a former faipule, most of the work by lawmakers is done in the morning — referring to committee hearings and sessions — and sometimes where is work in the afternoon.
“But during times the faipule and senators are off, they should be in their districts, they should be working, looking at the needs in their districts, so when the Fono is in session, they have a lot of work to do,” he added.
LEMANU & TALAUEGA
Responding in Samoan, candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga points out that the public has raised in the past concerns on the limited number of legislative session days, as lawmakers not only receive their salaries, but their office expense allowance.
He acknowledged that the question is important but the Constitution needs to be amended to reflect additional legislative session days.
As a former senator, Lemanu testified that even if the Fono is not in session, senators and faipule continue their duties as lawmakers. They have work in their respective districts, unless they travel off island for medical appointments, he said.
During his time in the Senate, he said he witnessed senators and faipule continue working even when the Fono is not in session visiting their respective districts to see what constituents need and asking the executive branch for assistance.
To him and Talauega, the Constitution requires changing to reflect additional session days, said Lemanu.
I’AULUALO AND TAPAAU
Candidate for governor, I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia said he believes the 90-session days, as set by the constitution and law, gives lawmakers time to work with their constituents on important matters. He said he and Tapaau believe that any changes to the Constitution should be presented to the public, for example, “put it on a referendum” for voters to decide on.
His concern, however, is that, if additional session days are added, lawmakers would seek to have their salaries raised, thereby increasing the annual government budget. He said this is an issue that should thoroughly be looked at because the Fono is bound to seek a pay hike, with additional session days.
He points out that the governor has the right to call a special session if there are other pressing matters.
“Adding more days doesn't mean they provide quality work,” he said, and reiterated that 90-days gives lawmakers more time to connect with their constituents.
Under current law, the annual salary of the Senate President and House Speaker is $30,000 while other members of the Fono each receive $25,000 a year. The Swains Island delegate’s salary is $20,000.
Current law also provides for lawmakers’ office expense allowance, which defrays expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of their official duties. An accounting of the expenditures incurred by the lawmaker is not required.
For the Fono leaders, it's $40,000 each for the Senate President and House speaker; and $30,000 for each member of the Senate and House.
The law also states that unless the member so elects, the allowance provided in this section is not income and the member is not required to report the amount of the allowance as income for tax purposes. Additionally, a member may not subsequently claim the allowance as non-income once the election has been made to designate it as taxable income.