Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — All thirteen House representatives present at last week Wednesday’s House session voted yes to a bill that would add $20,000 to the office expense allowances of the Fono, which becomes effective as soon as it’s signed into law by the Governor.
In addition, the Senate has also approved its version of the bill.
There’s $1 million in the $22 million supplemental bill submitted by the administration to cover the increase and the funding source is surplus from Fiscal Year 2022.
The increase would mean the Fono leaders will receive office expense allowances of $80,000 and the members will receive $65,000. This is in addition to their salaries of $30,000 for the Fono leaders, $25,000 for Senators and Representatives, and $20,000 for the Swains faipule. Governor Lemanu had proposed a salary increase in the original bill. However, senators amended the bill to hike office expense allowances instead, and the House went along with the change.
Both the House and Senate have also approved in final reading their separate versions of the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2024, with the House of Representative version of the budget bill being enrolled and sent to the Governor for signing.
No changes were made to the original budget that the Lemanu Taluega administration submitted, which needs to be signed before the new fiscal year begins October 1st, 2023.
Before the House Retirement Committee decides to vote on a Senate bill raising the cap on local investments by the Fund from 17% to 60%, the House of Representative Retirement Committee has requested they receive a physical copy of the actuary report first.
Director of the Retirement Fund, Vaitautolu Talia Faafetai, testified before the committee that “he supports the bill”, similar to what he told the Senate.
“Currently, there’s no limit on investments by the Fund off-island, but local investments are limited because of the current cap in the law,” said Director Vaitautolu to the House Retirement Committee, headed by Faipule Samuel Meleisea of the Tualauta district.
Director Vaitauolu said that “as of Tuesday, September 27, 2023, the value of the Fund was $177 million, and all local investments and loans have not encountered any problems”.
“The only outstanding loan is to ASTCA of about $9 million, but this loan is in good order—payments are made on time”, continued Director Vaitautolu in his reply to the committee’s query..
House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale expressed reservations on increasing the cap to such a high rate. “Even though off-island markets crash from time to time, they always recover,” said Vaitautolu to the Speaker of the House. Savali then asked “if the change would allow local investments outside of the government?”
Vaitautolu said the Board of Trustees “has not explored local investments outside of the government, but pointed out there are some proposals from the government which may require an increase on the local cap. However, he could not disclose details at this time as they have not been finalized yet”.
Savali asked for an actuary report for the committee to review before it acts on the proposed bill.
The Retirement Fund director said one would be provided this Tuesday, October 3, 2023. The House Retirement Committee voted to delay review of the bill until the actuary report is provided.