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Joint budget hearings begin in the Fono today — 10 a.m. sharp

Office of Budget and Planning director Catherine A. Saelua
Lawmakers only want cabinet directors to testify

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Speaking at Monday’s cabinet meeting, Office of Budget and Planning director Catherine A. Saelua reminded directors that the government’s final budget for fiscal year 2022 “is the Governor’s Budget” and not her budget.

In past budget hearings, some directors — responding to lawmakers’ questions — would say that what’s in their budget is the allocated funding ceiling or cap, given to them by the Budget Office director. During such incidents, Saelua would respond that final ASG financial plan is the sitting Administration’s proposal.

The Fono joint budget committee hearing for the FY 2022 budget begins this morning for 10-days and the schedule of time and date for each ASG entity to appear before lawmakers has already been sent to the Executive Branch. The Fono has indicated that it will only hear testimony from directors or CEOs of semi autonomous agencies, and no one else.

At the cabinet meeting, Saelua asked directors to remember and always keep in mind when they testify before the Fono, that the FY 2022 budget is the governor’s budget and that the Fono — especially senators only want cabinet directors to testify.

And if a cabinet director is not available for the date and time of the scheduled hearing due to any unforeseen circumstances, she said a request should be made in advance, directly to the chairs of the Senate and House budget committees, for an exemption to allow someone else to testify on the budget.

She asked that directors testify during their budget hearings on what’s already set in their individual budget. She noted that “a lot of you” have asked for more, but the budget is set based on revenues expected.

Saelua revealed that $4 million-plus under the Special Program budget — administered by the Governor’s Office — has been re-allocated to fund the many requests from departments and agencies.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the Administration’s FY 2022 budget for Special Programs, totals $18.53 million — a 19% reduction from the current FY 2021 approved budget of $22.75 million.

Several programs for funding in the FY 2021 budget have had their total amounts reduced or eliminated all together for the new fiscal year.

At the cabinet meeting, Saelua pointed out that the biggest savings in local revenues for the FY 2022 budget, is at the local Education Department. She said federal COVID-19 funds helped lessen the dependency on local revenue.

Gov. Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga called on cabinet members to follow the budget schedule provided by the Fono and if a director needs to travel off island for medical reasons, to consult with the Treasurer and Budget director.

The governor requested cabinet members to thoroughly explain to lawmakers the budget and if a director doesn’t have the answer, give a direct answer that you don’t have the information but don’t “guess” as it will come back in the future, affecting the director.

He acknowledged that there will be questions not relating to the budget but he said this is the time when several lawmakers will raise non-budget issues.

The Administration’s FY 2022 final budget submission totals $552.78 million — to be funded with $110.16 from local revenue; $219.59 million in federal grants; $212.85 million under Enterprise Funds — which includes budgets for ASG’s semi autonomous agencies or authorities — and $10.26 million in Capital Improvement Projects.

The FY 2022 budget increased about 19% from the current fiscal year’s approved budget of $465.95 million and this is attributed to a hike in grants of more than $84.78 million in federal grants and $2.06 million under the Enterprise Fund.

According to the schedule of budget hearings, ASG Treasury and Budget Office as well as the Department of Legal Affairs, along with the Office of the Independent Prosecutor are the first agencies for today.  Four ASG entities including the Judicial Branch are scheduled for tomorrow and three on Friday including the LBJ Medical Center.

All hearings are set to begin at 10a.m. And as in past years, the hearing schedule may end up being changed as it continues with the last date for hearings on Aug. 10.