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Chamber questions candidates on procurement issues at gubernatorial forum

 I’aulualo/Tapa’au team (far left); Nua/Satele (middle) and Lemanu/Talauega (far right).

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Among the issues at last Thursday’s first gubernatorial forum hosted by the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce was a segment that dealt with “Procurement process, fair biding and transparency.”

One of the three moderators of the forum, John Raynar observed that this is an “exciting topic”.

“A lot of people wanted to know why only one company gets all the jobs,” he pointed out followed by applause from the audience. Samoa News was told by at least three attendeess of the forum that recently resigned chief procurement officer, Oreta Mapu Crichton was among those in the audience observing the forum.

“Many businesses have noted that many of the large construction projects have been consistently awarded to only a few bidders,” according to the Chamber, and followed by the question, “Would you support reform of the procurement process. If so, what reforms would you suggest?”

(Samoa News is reporting on who goes first with a response based on how the Chamber set up the format or rotation as to which teams get the question first, followed by responses from the other teams.)

Only three of the five gubernatorial teams committed in advance to attending the forum: I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia for governor and Tapaau Dan Mageo Aga as lieutenant governor; Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua for governor and Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., for lieutenant governor; and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga for governor and Talauega Eleasalo Alo for lieutenant governor. (See separate story in today’s edition for more information.)

This question went first to the Nua/Satele team and Nua responded in Samoan claiming this is an issue where there are many problems, finding the right contract for government projects. According to the senator, it’s very hard for other companies to get an ASG contract for projects if the procurement process is not done right.

The Nua/Satele team, if elected, will find the right person to oversee the Procurement Office, carry out the process in accordance with the law and explain to everyone the process, so that there are no questions raised over how the bidding was carried out, according to the senator.

He said the Nua/Satele team would hire a director who is truly honest. Nua claimed that the problem is, the director and staff for this agency don’t conduct the bidding process right — resulting in many complaints from companies.

Therefore, Nua and Satele would hire a director who is truly honest and speaks honestly and doesn’t come up with different answers when asked at different times.

Next on the response was I’aulualo who pointed out that “we have a law and people need to follow that law. If Iaulualo and Tapaau are elected, we are going to look very closely at that law and make sure fairness... is applied to that law.”

“I don’t know what else to say. We cannot solve problems with people’s attitude and people’s personality in how they handle things. But we have a law. It needs to be followed. And we’ll make sure that law is followed, if elected governor and lt. governor,” I’alulualo said.

For the Lemanu/Talauega team, Lemanu acknowledged the other two candidates, saying that the law is in place for procurement.

He said that there’s no one in government — from the governor to the custodian — that is above the law and that the law is for everyone. “If we are successful, we will follow the law. Everyone’s rights will be the same,” Lemanu said.

Another question on the same segment for the teams, with response beginning from the Lemanu/Talauega team was: “There have been accusations of gifts and kickbacks being provided to government employees to curry favor in the procurement process and to obtain favorable outcomes when dealing with ASG departments. What will you do to provide transparency and curtail any potential conflicts of interest to ensure that Government Contracts are fairly awarded and government regulations are followed?”

Talauega responded saying that the “only way government works is with integrity. The people elect leaders because they trust that they will do their job with integrity. If there is no integrity we have no hope. And there’s no man that I know that has more integrity [than Lemanu].”

“ You have all seen it, in his actions, his decisions to remove certain directors,” said Talauega who didn’t elaborate further on “certain directors”, but during the time he was acting governor, Lemanu removed the Youth and Women’s Affairs director from office following charges filed in court. “He makes tough calls.”

“Integrity, it’s very difficult, but so vital in gaining the trust of our government. That’s the way we plan to governor, or administer our government, [if elected],” he said, noting that procurement procedures need to be transparent and need to be handled by people with integrity.”

“People who do not obey the law, people who take kick backs, are going to be on the streets, because there is no room in the Lemanu and Talauega Administration for people who play favors like that,” said Talauega. It’s completely against our DNA”

“We don’t accept it, we don’t practice it, and that’s the only way that American Samoa can get off and do better than what we have. We have done great in the past,” he said. “Our forefathers have provided us with this platform for us to reach and get to the skies. “Activities such as this — taking gifts and bribes — those are the things that hold us back.”

In his response to the question, Nua claims that the current problem is that, although the administration knows that such problems exist, nothing is done. And even though the administration knows that the directors are not in compliance according with the law, again nothing is done.

He says that this is the reason why this problem has spread and continues to happen. He said the executive branch cannot enforce the law, because there’s no accountability.

“Eight years later, we’re hearing the same problems, with decisions made not in compliance with the law,” he claims. He also said the Fono has come up with laws to address such problems, but still nothing is done by the executive branch.

Speaking in response on behalf of I’aulualo, Tapaau said the team has “proposed to the Chamber of Commerce... to play a role in shaping public policy of the government of American Samoa.”

Tapaau thanked Talauega “for bringing up integrity. It’s true you must have integrity. But this is happening on both side of the coin. The government by itself is not the only one at fault. Both sides — the public sector and the private sector — need to work together.”

“And I suggest to the Chamber of Commerce that this is precisely an area where the Chamber can shape the kind of public policy that we need so that it can be a level playing field in the biding process,” Tapaau said.

He invited the Chamber to come up with ideas and share them with the Iaulualo and Tapaau team “and we will develop that kind of platform.”

Samoa News will report in later editions on other segment-issues from the forum.