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Frustration voiced over supplemental budget funds meant for Manu’a

Sen. Togiola Tulafono
Legislature closed with stalemate over amendment moving funds to TBAS

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A resident of Manu’a is expressing disappointment with the Legislature over amendments made to the $7.4 million supplemental budget bill, in which Manu’a was to receive $4.1 million for emergency response to the Manu’a earthquakes.

The Senate and the House concluded its current term last month without a compromise on the government’s supplemental budget.

Lotoalofa Segi told Samoa News, the $4.1 million allocation for the Manu’a Islands was needed for developments on the islands and most especially for the emergency status the islands were under due to the earthquakes.

“We were told by our lawmakers that funding would go to develop roads on the mountain as our escape route in case of tsunamis, but then the Senate moved to divert those funds to the bank [Territorial Bank of American Samoa]. What about Manu’a?” asked Mr Segi.

When the session closed neither the House nor the Senate was willing to compromise.

At a joint hearing held last month, Senators were adamant that the bank needed the financial assistance more than Manu’a.

As reported earlier, the House version of the $7.4 million supplemental bill was approved in the Senate with amendments to allocate $5.9 million for the Territorial Bank of American Samoa (TBAS). The supplemental budget was to be funded — as usual —  from unbudgeted, unobligated, and unexpended revenues from Fiscal Year 2022.

Senator Togiola T. A. Tulafono said that some of the obligations cited by the government are not “on an emergency basis” other pressing issues at hand should be considered.

Togiola, who is also chairman of the TBAS board, said when ANZ closed its banking services in the territory members of the public turned to TBAS and so monies deposited have increased — therefore the government should also increase its capital investment in the government-owned financial institution.

Adding, under banking laws the bank should have a five percent ratio of investment in line with deposits.

According to Togiola, TBAS deposits were over $140 million however that had increased significantly,  to over $400 million. 

A vote was taken after the joint hearing and the House dominated in numbers.

Togiola proposed at that time to approve half a million for the Fono and $1 million for the emergency response in Manu’a related to the recent earthquakes and use the balance of $5.9 million for ASG’s capitalization or investment in the TBAS.

The original supplemental bill introduced in September by the Administration outlined the following:

•             $4.1 million for emergency response in Manu’a related to the earthquakes;

•           $500,000 for the Fono for critical operational needs not addressed in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget;

•           $250,00 to extend the Centennial Book contract;

•           $300,000 for the completion of the American Samoa Veterans Memorial;

•           $500,000 for local matching funds for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law projects;

•           $500,000 to the Department of Legal Affairs for legal fees for off island counsel in ongoing and anticipated litigation;

•           $500,000 to the Samoan Language Commission to pay for rent, salaries and other expenses;

•           $150,000 for the Territorial Audit Office to pay for salaries and related personnel expenses;

•           $100,000 for the American Samoa Resilience Commission and the Governor’s Resiliency Office; and

•           $500,000 to the Governor’s Office for drug enforcement efforts.