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Lolo institutes strict protocol for processing COVID-19 payments

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga
To ensure transparency & accountability in process

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — To ensure transparency and accountability in the processing of payments relating to coronavirus activities, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has implemented a process, which all ASG entities must follow instead of each agency submitting their own request to the federal government.

Speaking at an ASG COVID-19 Task Force meeting, Lolo notes that there are no problems with the government’s ongoing work relating to the coronavirus, but there are some issues that require him to provide clarification so everyone complies.

He said if a cabinet member wants his/ her expenses relating to COVID-19 paid, there is a process to follow and that is filling out the COVID-19 Expenditure Approval Form for such a request.

For example, if LBJ Medical Center wants to recruit physicians, that request is made by filing out the expenditure form, which is then sent to Fiu J. Saelua, the deputy Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR) and Homeland Security director, Samana Semo Ve’ave’a, whose agency deals directly with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

(Samoa News notes that Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga is the GAR, but he is currently in Hawai’i, unable to return home after flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago were suspended based on the governor’s request.)

According to the governor, the current practice by agencies is that a lot of requests are sent directly to FEMA for payment but “myself and the task force don’t know about it.”

Under the set policies, Lolo said he has informed the ASG Treasurer that nothing is to be paid if the request for payments doesn’t go through the ASG payment process in which the expenditure form is submitted to Fiu and Samana for their review and signatures; then it goes to the task force for review and signature of the chairman, who then forwards it to the governor for review and final decision on the payment request.

“The reason for this process is to ensure accuracy and no questions are raised later,” he said, adding that anytime decisions or actions are made by one or two people, there’s always a “chance of abuse in the process.”

He also says that any requests already sent directly to Treasury for payment without filing the expenditure form and obtaining all required signatures will not be paid. He said DPS has submitted an “emergency” request, which will now route through the proper channels before a final decision.

While the governor didn’t elaborate further on DPS’ request, Lolo did say that this “system guarantees that there is transparency and accountability in the process.”

He noted that Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua can’t just make his orders and then submit them to FEMA along with a request for payment without going through the implemented payment process system, which applies to all other departments and agencies.

During a cabinet meeting early last month, the governor announced that all monies that the government receives through various sources including the federal government, during the measles outbreak was deposited in the Special Account, and this will be continued for the COVID-19 activities.

Coronavirus payments will be made from this account to be reimbursed later by the federal government.

At the COVID-19 task force meeting, Lolo reiterated the procedures for all ASG entities to follow. He said if a director ignores this policy and sends requests directly to FEMA, that means the director, “wants to be the governor.” Lolo said to leave the governorship to him to guide ASG through these challenging times.

ASG Office of Budget and Planning director, Catherine Saelua noted that there are departments, such as DoH, which have supplemental coronavirus funding and asked if the new process still applies.

Motusa pointed out that many of DoH purchases “are very time sensitive to our COVID-19 team” and need to move forward within 24-hours.

Lolo said the only reason a request remains sitting for more than 24-hours is that the director is not doing his/ her job to follow-up by going through the new process.

The governor said that all DoH purchases — no matter which DoH account it is to be paid from — all go through the current process before it’s sent off island, to either FEMA or other federal agencies.

He said the 25-member task force, includes cabinet members who deal with spending and hiring. And the task force makes recommendations so that the governor can make a decision, Lolo said.

According to the governor, many of the regulations to operate the government are “surrendered” at this time under the emergency declaration.

He commended cabinet members for the continued hard work and urged them to continue collaboration with each other.