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Questions raised in Senate over Admin’s “direct deposit” mandate

Sen. Satele Lili’o Aliita’i

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Is the Legislative Branch, its employees and lawmakers included in the direct-deposit mandate issued by acting governor Talauega Eleasalo Ale?

That question was publicly raised during Monday’s Senate session — and that is something lawmakers have also asked each other. And the answer is “no”.

Talauega’s Jan. 23 memorandum, which requires that all government employees use direct deposit by the beginning of March this year, was distributed to senators during Monday’s session.

And it prompted a question from Sen. Satele Lili’o Aliita’i who asked if this requirement also includes allowance checks for lawmakers that are received by paper check payment during ASG’s non-pay week.

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean responded that he would consult with the Senate legal counsel.

However, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i — who is also the Senate President Pro-Tempore — informed senators that after he heard news report on this issue he contacted the Senate legal counsel, who pointed to the “separation of powers” between the two branches of government.

Therefore, Magalei said that the directive does not include lawmakers unless it is something that is agreed upon by Fono leaders. He said the direct deposit only applies to the Executive Branch and not the Legislative Branch of government.

Tuaolo said it is an individual’s right to choose on whether or not to use direct-deposit service. And the answer is “no” to Satele’s query, said Tuaolo.

According to Talauega’s memo, beginning Mar. 01, 2023, all payments made by ASG for wages, stipends, and expense reimbursement to government employees will be made by electronic funds transfer commonly known as “direct deposit”.

This would prompt an increase in the number of customers for the government owned Territorial Bank of American Samoa — the only financial institution in the territory —   as ASG workers who don’t use direct deposit would be forced to open accounts at TBAS, if they did not have one.

Samoa News observed late last week about six ASG employees waiting to open their bank accounts. One of them told Samoa News that this was due to the new direct-deposit requirement.

At least three other Executive Branch employees told Samoa News that they had always preferred the paper paycheck. One employee, who asked not be identified by name, said, “You know that traditional Samoan thing, where you show your parents your paycheck and then give them the whole chec

“That’s why I need a paper check, to show my parents that I got paid, and they take the whole check to pay our family expenses,” the employee said, with a smile. “Now I had to explain to my parents the new government policy that the entire check goes to the bank.”