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Lawmakers not happy to get only an estimate cost of Repat Program

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i
Magalei says they want a detailed report, not just “guesses”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Sen. Magalei Logovi’i was among lawmakers who were not pleased with the  Administration not providing a detailed financial report including funding source for the eight flights of the American Samoa Repatriation program from Honolulu between February and late July this year.

Cost of repatriation was among the several issues and concerns raised by the Fono joint hearing yesterday at the Senate chamber, following three positive COVID-19 cases, who are all local residents, who returned on the Sept. 13th and Sept. 27th flights from Honolulu.

Lawmakers also voiced their displeasure over the TalofaPass web system used by American Samoa to screen travelers from Honolulu, especially now with three imported (border) cases. The system was supposed to help prevent such cases from entering the territory.

 But Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Alailima Utu assured lawmakers, during the more than 2-hour hearing that based on information from the medical team, the territory is well protected with current protocols and with no local community spread of the virus.

 The Fono had sought information on the total cost of the repatriation program, and sought financial reports from the government, including the COVID-19 Task Force. And during pointed questions at yesterday’s hearing from Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, task force member Tuimavave Tauapa’i Laupola, who is also the Governor’s chief of staff responded that repatriation costs were close to $20 million.

And the costs include all ASG personnel working in Honolulu for the repatriation program, the charter flights operated by Hawaiian Airlines, and the quarantine site — which was a hotel.

According to the chief of staff, the first repatriation flight cost around $2 million, and that by the last two repatriation flights, the hotel quarantine facility cost alone was nearly $1 million.

But a summary financial report provided to lawmakers shows total repatriation costs at $4 million. ASG Medicaid Office director Sandra King-Young, who is also a task force member (she attended the joint hearing) explained that this is her office’s financial report, detailing the Medicaid share of the repatriation flights.

That didn’t sit well with several lawmakers, including Tuaolo who sought further clarification, to which Tuimavave said the government’s cost was around $16 million. Tuimavave said the funding source came from the Governor’s Office funds, from COVID money.

Magalei, who also chairs the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, told Tuimavave that the Fono does not accept verbal reports on financial spending, and instead wants a written detailed financial report on repatriation costs as well as the “correct” funding source — and not guesses.

Magalei said a detailed financial report provides solid information and allows for a better understanding by the Fono.

Samoa News understands that the Fono had requested a specific information report on the repatriation costs — including the costs in Honolulu — but has not received it.

Among the concerns from the public that lawmakers shared with task force members who attended the hearing are the three imported positive cases. Lawmakers are of the opinion that pre-quarantine in Honolulu — during the repatriation flights — was the safest way to detect and prevent entry of the virus to the territory.

Alailima-Utu, who is also a member of the task force, said the pre-quarantine in Honolulu was becoming costly to the government and that the current protocols used with three tests in Hawaii prior to boarding the flight in Honolulu and required quarantine upon arrival here that includes testing of travelers — is working.

He said that based on information from the local medical team, American Samoa is well protected from the virus, and that there’s “no community spread” from the three imported positive cases.

Task Force chairman, Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale didn’t attend the hearing. Other task force members who attended include Secretary of Samoan Affairs Mauga Tasi Asuega, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua and LBJ Medical Center chief executive officer, Faumuina John Faumuina.

Samoa News will report in future editions on other issues and questions raised — especially on the TalofaPass web system, at yesterday’s hearing.