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Faipule knew nothing of CARES Act checks until funds received

Tualauta Rep. Larry Sanitoa.
Rep. Sanitoa will return his, word has it others will give theirs to charity

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Rep. Larry Sanitoa will be returning his $10,000 check which is funded with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money allocated to ASG while a second peaceful protest against the governor giving the Fono money from the CARES Act will be carried out today at the Fagatogo malae — Malaeoletalu, where the first one this last Monday took place.

The Fono’s share of the money has the Senate President and House Speaker each receiving $20,000 while $10,000 each goes to senators (17 of them) and faipule (20 of them including the non-voting delegate from Swains Island).

In a statement yesterday morning, Sanitoa said he was not aware, nor had any prior knowledge of these funds being made available for the Fono members.

“We were told by the Speaker that the funds were to set up an office space or to make improvements to member's home office in case there is a change in the [COVID-19] Code Declaration, requiring members to work from home and communicate online for virtual sessions and/or committee hearings,” he explained. “The funds may also be used for district needs.”

The Tualauta faipule said he met Monday this week with Fono legal counsel, Nathaniel Savali, to review the legality and get clarification on using these funds for office space and district needs.

During the last session, he said the Fono requested an opportunity to review and appropriate with stipulations the CARES Act funds which ASG received — just over $35 milllion — under the local Budget Procedure Act, ASCA 10.0501. (Samoa News understands that a hearing never took place to review and appropriate this money.)

According to the lawmaker, questions on the use of these funds would have been better answered if “we had followed the due process of holding committee appropriation hearings as required by law.”

“I am extremely disappointed on the lack of communication and/or obtaining the Fono members’ input on this important issue — as we are now faced with answering questions and ridicule from constituents, plus having to defend something we had no knowledge of,” he points out.

After further review on the legality and given the lack of clarity on the accountability on the use of these funds, I have decided to return the $10,000,” he said.

Samoa News has learned that at least four lawmakers will either use their share to address needs of their district or give it to local non-profit groups, including Hope House. Efforts to reach these lawmakers yesterday for confirmation — and to identify them by name — as well as official comments were unsuccessful at press time.

The governor giving the Fono such a large sum of money has attracted a lot of criticism, both locally and from off island.  Earlier this week a group of local residents took their disappointment and criticism to the street, with a peaceful protest at the Fagatogo Malae.  And the group has scheduled a second one at sunrise today, at the same location.

Allocating COVID-19 money to the Fono for office space at their homes, also prompted local resident Steven Jay Pincus Hueter to file complaints with the US Treasury’s Office of Inspector General and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation alleging “flagrant misuse and misappropriation” of the money by the governor and ASG. (See yesterday’s edition for details.)