Faipule hear from AG about Immigration Office improvements
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Plans for the 75th Jubilee Celebration of the Legislature of Tutuila were reduced from 4 days to one, following the governor’s initial veto of the $1million earmarked for the celebration. And, the question now remains — with the appropriation of $1million identified in the $3.1million supplemental bill from Fiscal Year 2022 for the Jubilee, will it go back to a the four-day celebration?
A delegation from the Governor’s Office appeared in the House of Representatives on Wednesday to further explain the items listed in the $3.1million supplemental bill, which is funded from unobligated and unexpended revenues of FY 2022 — noted as a surplus by the government.
The Attorney General Fainuulelei Falefatu Ala’ilima Utu told members that “the Governor wants to return the money, ($1million) for the Fono’s Jubilee. He explained “it’s a celebration for the Territory, not only for the Fono house and the legislature.
“It’s a history of our country.”
He said, “That includes the $1.5 appropriated to furnish the Legislative Branch New Fono Building.”
Other items in the supplemental surplus bill include $400,000 for the Department of Immigration Office Operations and Enforcement; $75,000 for the Criminal Justice Planning Agency for victims of crime Compensation Program; $50,000 for the American Samoa Shipyard Services Authority (ASSSA) to achieve and maintain compliance with US EPA requirements; and, $75,000 for the Governor’s Office for the Capital Improvement of the Jean P Hayden Museum as “requested by its board.”
Explaining the $400,000 appropriated for the Immigration, the AG noted it was for the Department of Legal Affairs for Immigration Office Operations and Enforcement.
He told members of the House that it would pay for an additional eight employees, which would be $20,000 for each employee, purchase of two vehicles and office desk computers for the eight workers, and off island training for $10,000 and contractual services for $80,000.
He explained to the faipule that when he started with the AG’s office there were prolonged issues that should have been taken care of at the Immigration Office. This included giving priority to the salaries, the increments, overtime during the COVID 19 period, which have been taken care of already, as well as the increase of minimum wages from $12,000- $15,000 for those with degrees.
The integrity of the people was also a problem, said the AG, but he assured that they’ve improved as of today.
What is left, according to the AG, is an Immigration problem — that of people overstaying their permits. It’s a problem that’s not new, it happened before the Lemanu Administration.
Fainuulelei talked about the seven-day waiver permit, under a special agreement with Samoa.
“Our people here weren’t happy with the policy of entry permits for US Nationals but not US citizens.
“So the agreement was about the okay board and roundtrip ticket, and passport and also a host if needed.”
He said, since the agreement started, on October 19, 2023, there have been 84 travelers that have entered on the 7-day permit waiver, with only 4 overstaying. Immigration officers are currently out looking for these people, who will fined and returned.
The eight new employees, include four to do investigations, two at the sea ports and two at the airport.
Fainuulelei said the five staff members that usually cover the arrival and departure as well as the wharf for the Lady Naomi couldn’t facilitate all ports.
He noted there’s also problems with StarKist guest workers, so one of the Immigration officers needs to appear in court, while others are in the field.
The shortage of employees at Immigration has been a long-time problem, as evidenced at the EOB building, where people usually line up or sit around awaiting Immigration hearings, clearances, permits, including fee payments.
The bill will go into its 3rd reading today, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.
On Oct, 24, 2023 the Fono 75th Anniversary Celebration Committee held a meeting with Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean and decided that the jubilee will be commemorated with just a church service on November 30.
The committee, chaired by Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga and Faipule Vailoata Amituanai, had planned a four-day celebration; however, after the Governor vetoed the $1 million funding for the event, lawmakers then agreed to forego those plans.
There were two items the Governor vetoed from the $22 million supplemental bill of surplus money from Fiscal Year 2022 to supplement the FY2024 budget. They were the $1 million for the jubilee and $1.5 million to buy furnishings for the new Fono building.
Both items are now in the $3.1 supplemental bill being discussed during the Joint Special Session currently happening.