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Fono considering two supplemental bills from 2023 and 2022 surplus

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean
Easy peavey for 2022 surplus; but how to handle 2023? It’s already spent

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The $36 million supplemental from the 2023 surplus funds is one of the two supplemental budget bills currently being considered by the Fono during the Joint Special Session of the 38th Legislature, which convened on Monday, Nov. 11, 2023 for a period not to exceed 10 calendar days.

The second bill is the  $3.1 million supplemental bill involving surplus funds from 2022, and passing it would allow the spending of the revenues on items approved by the Fono.

However, the $36 million supplemental has an issue that has concerned many senators and faipule — the government has told the Fono it has already spent the money on the items identified in the bill. If passed, the bill would be approving “after the fact” items — and many lawmakers have said it’s illegal because all revenue spending must be approved by the Fono. The bill was eventually tabled for further review in the next regular session of the 38th Legislature.

With the Special Session called by the governor, the $36 million supplemental bill is once again on the table, and Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga has asked that both supplementals be passed, asserting in his remarks before the joint session, "Failure to pass this legislation will impact American Samoa’s financial stability and jeopardize our opportunities to secure future funding for our government.”

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean seemed to add support to the governor’s wish to pass the $36 million bill, by reminding during his speech at the same joint session that the $36 million was already spent, and “the governor didn’t take that money, neither did his government. It’s been spent and has already been explained.”

The governor summarized the $36Mil bill spending in his remarks, listing the Emergency Response and Evacuation Routes in Manu’a Islands, Infrastructure Resilience Against King Tides on Tutuila island, Access Road Enhancements as a comprehensive approach to ensure safety and resilience in the community, Medicaid matching funds, and COVID reimbursement.

Samoa News should point out that the COVID reimbursement the governor mentions is listed as an Audit Finding- MV Pago Pago, which is the vessel Papalli’i Lauli’i Alofa sold to the government and the purchase using COVID funds was later disallowed by the federal Government Audit Office (GAO).

Further details of the bill’s spending shows that 15 private companies, mostly construction companies were paid with the revenue itemized in the $36 million spending bill. Leading the group of companies in project $-amounts (rounded off) is the Silva Group for a total of three projects — $11, 043,079.03 (30.68% of the $36Mil); followed by Paramount Builders for a total of 9 projects — $9,769,572.99 (27.14% of the $36Mil).

Other construction companies listed are Howards Building Development — $1.89 million for 3 projects (5.24%); Nana’s Inc. — $1.4 million for 1 project; Vailuu & Sons — $1.17 million for 4 projects (3.25%); Continental Transport Corp. — $1.1 million for one project (3.06%); Titanic Corp — $639,000 for 2 projects (1.78%); Vilisoni & Sons — $250,000 for one project (.69%); Snow Inc. — $244,000 for 1 project (.68%); Hollister General Services — $180,000 for 2 projects (.50%); Tony’s Construction — $63,000 for one project (,17%); and, PJ Corp — $45,500 for 1 project (.13%).

Other expenditures were: Quality Painting — $480,000 for 3 projects (1.33%); AJ’s Development — $300,000 for one project (.83%); Dept Human Resources — $1 million for the Summer Youth Employment program (2.78%); ASCC — $2 million for “pay adjustments” (2.78%); Audit Finding (COVID reimbursement) — $1.5 million; and, Medicaid Matching — $2 million (both equal 11.11%).

Funded projects are mainly — as pointed out by the governor — for emergency needs of the territory due to the King Tides and the quakes in Manu’a, but there were others that are ‘extras’ such as the Maritime Cultural Center, Flag Day Preparations, ASDHR office repairs, and the Golf Course Club House (which is the Nana’s project for $1.4 million).

It should be noted that Treasurer Malemo Tausaga has noted in a previous budget hearing, when the $36 million spending was being discussed that spending first and getting lawmakers’ approval later is nothing new — other administrations have done it.

Of note, some of the lawmakers have questioned the ASG Treasury Department about the amounts that are being identified as “surplus” funds — “unobligated and unexpended”. Samoa News will cover this aspect of the issue in its Friday issue that has arisen due to the amount of supplemental budget bills that have come to the Fono. Where is the revenue or surplus coming from is the question the lawmakers are asking.