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LFO Mauga tells Saelua to "follow the law" regarding Fono expenditures

Rendering of proposed new Fono Building
He also tells her to remember the Lolo Administration campaign slogan: "People First"

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — If ASG is experiencing a slowed period of revenue collection, the Legislature is offering two remedy options to the governor and ASG Budget Office director, Catherine D. Saelua.

This is according to Legislative Financial Officer, Talalemotu Mauga's Apr. 15th letter to Saelua, which appears to question whether Saelua understands the budget law pertaining to Fono expenditure funds.

Mauga’s letter was in response to Saelua’s Mar. 28th letter, which covered a wide range of issues pertaining to the proposed salary adjustments for two Fono employees.

(See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for details).

In his response, Mauga noted that Saelua had covered “at great length” the budget process, which facilitates the control of departments and government agency budgets under the custodian of the Executive Branch.

“However, I am disturbed by your lack of understanding with the intent of the budget law applicable to the Legislature — Expenditures of Legislature Funds,” he wrote to Saelua. “I am not sure what part of the law you don’t understand.”

“Please follow the law,” he continued, before reiterating provision of local law (ASCA 1.0603) regarding Fono expenditure funds.

Mauga maintains that the Fono is a “separate branch” of government and handles its own financial affairs. But goes on to say that the Fono agrees with Saelua's statement regarding the budget policy of tying spending to actual resources. "We too, share the same objective," he wrote. (Samoa News points out that the Fono’s annual budget is funded with local revenues, which are collected by the Executive Branch).

Mauga informed Saelua that he had never, at any time during his tenure as the ASG Budget Office boss in the 1980s, interfered with the expending of Legislative and Judicial Branch funds, “because of the high respect and trust I had maintained” with the two branches of government, “but more importantly, I followed” the law.

He said the Fono and the Judicial accounted for only 4% and 2%, respectively, of the proposed final budget for ASG in FY 1980 to 1992, and even in FY 2019 — “a very small percentage compared to 94% allocated to the Executive Branch.”

Regarding salary reclassification at the Education Department that was cited in Saelua’s letter, Mauga said the “Legislature has nothing to do with it. The decision is yours, and yours alone because it is on your desk.”

“If funding is available in its budget, then by all means do the right thing — approve it and be happy that you have done great services to those principals, vice principals, assistant directors, program directors, and teachers who have worked hard, day in and day out to improve student learning outcomes in FY 2019 and many years to come,” he wrote.

Mauga then reminded Saelua of the Lolo Administration campaign slogan.

“Don’t forget your campaign slogan: 'PEOPLE FIRST' or is it that you forgot all about the people who put you in your position?” he asked. “I am not surprised at all.”

He said he's "not sure" what Saelua was referring to with regards to 'paper money' but said, if ASG “continues to experience slowed period of revenue collection, then the Legislature offers the governor, you, and your office two options in order to remedy the problem of ‘paper money’ and perhaps assist you to fulfill your oversight function of budget compliance and accountability.”

First option is, modify or withhold ASG planned expenditures pursuant to local law.

The second is to issue cost containment measures to specifically mandate specific actions to be taken by all government agencies to reinstitute financial discipline throughout the government, including the Legislative and Judicial branches.

“This shall include a 10% Contingency Plan or Revised Budget” as mentioned in the FY 2019 Budget Executive Summary, he said, noting that neither of the two options were submitted to the Fono, before the Apr. 22nd closing of the First Regular Session

(Samoa News notes that the Executive Branch continues to operate under a cost containment measure that was issued by the governor some four years ago.)

Based on his letter, it appears that Mauga questions Saelua’s trust in the Fono and its spending.  “If only you maintain your trust and confidence in the Legislature, the same way I did back in the ‘80s, most certainly everything will work in your favor,” he told Saelua.

“However, your lack of trust and confidence in the Legislature and the capability of the Legislative Financial Office to control our own financial affairs somehow, also raises doubts and questions in your mind with your ability to fulfill your responsibility as director of Program Planning and Budget [Office],” Mauga continued.

He then recalled a quote by Bishop Peter Brown, “A servant without faith and work is a bad servant; but a servant with faith and work is a good one,” and said, "The Legislative Leadership therefore, are good servants who have been chosen and trusted by their colleagues to lead the Fono in FY 2019 and moving forward. Just believe in them — that’s all we are asking for.”

Mauga’s letter is copied to Fono leaders as well as the Governor and Lt. Governor.

The exchange of harshly worded letters between the LFO and Budget director was sparked after Mauga wrote to Saelua regarding salary adjustments for two Fono employees, whom he said were employed at the discretion of Fono leaders and were up for a reward.