Feds rule NO on $20,000 & $10,000 payments to local legislators
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Since Fono members were already in telework capacity prior to COVID-19 due to the ongoing construction of the legislative building, we believe the stipend payments of $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, are unrelated to the COVID-19 health emergency,” declared the US Treasury Department’s deputy inspector general Richard K. Delmar in a July 14th letter to ASG Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipe’a.
As previously reported by Samoa News, the Senate President and House Speaker each received $20,000 while the rest of the Fono members got $10,000. Local resident, Steven Jay Pincus Hueter filed a complaint with the US Treasury’s Office of Inspector General against Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga for giving Fono members this money.
In his letter Delmar noted a meeting July 10th with Tonumaipe’a and Blanche Barber of the ASG Treasury Department to discuss some matters regarding the US Treasury’s Coronavirus Relief Fund payment to American Samoa under the CARES Act.
Among the matters discussed was the payment to Fono members, which Tonumaipe’a confirmed was to support Fono members’ teleworking from their homes.
“However, it was also noted that prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the legislative building has been under construction, and the Fono members were using other facilities, such as the Fale Samoa Cultural House and Lee Auditorium, to hold hearings,” Delmar wrote. “Additionally, Fono members were already teleworking due to these circumstances prior to COVID-19.”
Since lawmakers were already in telework capacity prior to COVID-19 due to the ongoing construction of the legislative building, Delmar said the federal agency believes the stipends are unrelated to the COVID-19 health emergency.
“Accordingly, we request that payments issued to Fono members are returned to the American Samoa Government for future uses related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Delmar explained. “To the extent that Fono members have already used payments, our office will seek recoupment of those funds in accordance with the CARES Act.”
Samoa News will have more details in Friday’s edition, to include what the feds have to say about the money given to four village aumaga.