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House delves into the $36million surplus spent without authorization

House Vice Speaker Fetui Fetu Jr
Senate adjourns after rejecting both surplus bills

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Faipule Lauaitaua Gene Pan is calling for the removal of Governor Lemanu P. S. Mauga because of the $36 million spent without lawmakers’ appropriating the funds, as required by law.

Lauaitaua fired several questions directly at the Government's Budget Director, Ms Catherine Saelua , when she showed up at the Fono to clarify the  $36million surplus issue on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

"When did we know that we've crossed the line of a one million, then two million and now it's $36 million?

"Where is the line here and don't you have alarms that you should alert the Fono, so we don't have to get to this situation?

"We stepped way out, last year it was $11 million, and now it went up to triple the amount.

“Do you have people telling you or something that indicates to you, that you have crossed the boundary?

"It's normal when you cross a boundary (you ask first). If we didn't have that $36 million, we'd be in the red, in trouble, lose employees, but, how far you went beyond that line puzzles me.  

"There are other jobs here from 2020, there's a bid, not to mention a name, that it now listed on the 2023 [budget], and how did that come about?

Ms Saelua with apologetic in her response saying, "the alarms happened, due to a lot of money coming in.”

She admitted that "The Executive Branch has erred. “Ua 'ela le Executive Branch.”

"O lea e mana'o e toe faalelei. Ole ala lea ole aumai ole $36 miliona, ua sese matou. O alarms ua leva ona iai. Ae faigata, pei ona saunoa le Kovana, e faamalulu atu i tou afioga, ua pa'u nei, ua sulufa'i mai ia tou afioga, ise mea e mafai ona toe faasa'o ai le tupe a le tatou malo.”

(“We want to make it good. That’s why we have brought the $36 million, we were wrong. The alarms have been there for a long time. But it’s difficult, as the Governor said, please forgive us, it’s our wrong, that’s why we’ve come to you, for something that can be done to make the money/ finances of our government right again.”)

"But for the projects you've mention, I'm saying, no, those I believe were from the time of Sunia. 

But the big project, those are of the Governor’s, and he’s already shared that with your honorable, and I sincerely apologize.”

"Your job isn't easy," said Luaitaua, " because your instructions come from the top. As for me, the Governor should be removed.

“He should be removed.”

Luaitau pointed at the completed road construction in Tafuna, compared to a road at Falelima Sasa'e — it's not fair to his constituency.

"It's not safe as its not wide enough following road standards, and we all know the roads to Falelima Sasa'e, as well as the amount of works, [it] don't make sense.”

Faipule Malaeoletalu Melesio Gurr asked about the latest on the Olosega seawall that was on hold. Budget Director Ms Saelua said the seawall project at Olosega is still ongoing.

Gurr continued, “Looking at the ARPA report from last year that was given to the Fono, there was a Golf Course Country Club renovation of $400,000, awarded in 2020, and we all know that project didn't materialize, and now there is $1.4million to the new contractor, so that’s $1.8million, and for the $400,000 from the ARPA money, how much of that money, if you are aware, was spent?

"There was money definitely spent and are we getting any money back for not completing the job? asked Malaeoletalu.

Mrs. Saelua responded, “Sorry we are not aware of that project, we just have the listing of the projects performed, and if our budget is different as to funding, as opposed to the local, it is possibly the job wasn't finished and has been completed by another contract.”

 Faipule Vesiai Poyer Samuelu said, "We all know the reason why we are discussing this bill, because the work had been done, and we are asking after the money has been spent.

"It's understood this is the responsibility of the Fono. If the Senate hasn't decided on this bill, and this House is a brother to that House, we shouldn't move away from our responsibility. This is why there's three pillars of government, so no one is free to do on its own the decision, like budgeting and spending of money.

"If we move away from the Senate’s decision then there is no use of our time here in this 38th Legislature.

"We are not doing our job.

“We should do our job, in order for this government to be consistent with its checks and balances.

House Vice Speaker Fetui Fetu Jr, said this isn't a new issue, as when ASG Treasurer Malemo Tausaga came in and now again the Budget Director said the same.

"I have insisted about following the law and also spoken against breaking it.

“But I'm concerned about what's been said, and different questions being asked, that may hinder our purpose.”

Fetui was expecting to see the Treasurer, and he heard there would also be the Attorney General, coming — but, neither appeared.

The House Vice Speaker made a motion to put the bill aside, and move it forward to the next House Session.

 Committee Chair, Faipule Manumaua Wayne C. Wilson said, "The Governor was present during the opening of the Special Session, he apologized concerning the error, as well as the Budget Director has repeatedly said it, so I believe, the answer is not from here, but there is a time when members of the House decide."

Faipule Ape Mike Asifoa seconded the motion by the Vice Speaker and it was supported by Faipulue Titialii Kitara Vaiau.

During the House Session Fetui suggested that this bill should be put aside for next year, "hoping the Christmas and the New year would bring different thoughts and feelings concerning this issue.”

However, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale emphasized that nothing should happen unless it's been passed by the Fono.

He noted that the Governor and the law enforcers were at error. 

"But this is where they should be working together. The money concerned, the $36 million is supposedly a surplus of the 2023 fiscal year. 

“This has been a result of working together, with tax collections, with so much money going into the government, and what was expected.

But the only problem here is, "the governor has used the money that was supposed to be cleared procedurally, however my concern would be, how it would affect the report of this government's economy.

House Speaker Savali, said this must be put aside while they think more about it.

 At the end of the House Session all have agreed to wait with their decision until another time.

In the meantime, the Governor’s liaison officer, outside the Fono, Gafatasi Afalava, in a quiet aside said if they don't decide on this bill, that would affect the opportunities for our government in getting off-island grants.

The House of Representatives, will meet again this morning  at 8:30 to supposedly discuss what should be done.

However, last Friday, the Senate adjourned for the session — meaning they won’t be meeting this week at all — after rejecting both supplementary bills, the $3.1 million and the $36 million, and passing the FIFA-AS government land lease.

According to Senator Olo Uluao Letuli, the Senate did not table either supplemental bill, instead the $3.1 million bill was rejected in 3rd reading 8 nay- 3 ayes; and the $36 million bill was rejected in 3rd reading, 7 nay- 4 ayes. He confirmed that the FIFA-AS land lease was passed.

Asked about the rejection of both bills, Sen. Olo said the majority of senators believed the bills were wrong.

For the $3.1 million, the two items — the $1 million for the Jubilee and the $1.5 million — the Senators believe that the line item veto by the governor in the original $22 million supplemental should have never happened. But, he did it to have a ‘carrot’ to get the lawmakers to pass the $36 million supplemental bill.

In particular, they pointed to the $1 million Jubilee item that includes a breakdown of bonuses to the faipule and lawmakers for their long service to the Fono. Listed is $20,000 each to the Senate president and the House Speaker, while all other lawmakers receive $5,000 each.

The majority of senators felt they were being treated with “no respect”, like they were ’stupid’ (valea). Olo said he voted against the $3.1 million because of what the intent of those bonuses seem to be.

For the $36 million, Olo said he did vote for the bill, because he believes, while what the governor did was wrong, he was looking at it in terms of for the good of the government as a whole, especially in terms of the Territory’s bond rating, and possible high risk designation.

However, the majority of the senators again voted to reject the bill — citing not only was the money already spent, but that some of the projects that were paid were not even for for FY 2023, which is where the money came from, but for previous years, which is another problem altogether.

As it stands, even if the House returns today, to discuss and the pass the $36 million supplemental, it will have no where to go, as the Senate is no longer in session, and has rejected the bill.