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Senate once again questions admin salary increases in FY2022

Senator Magalei Logovi’i
Treasurer declines to submit current report after previous report appeared in the paper

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean has lamented why Directors are “trying to hide information on the increases of their salaries, when it is in fact public information?”

Tuaolo made the comments during a hearing on Friday regarding the $7.4 million supplemental budget submitted by the Administration for projects and salaries. In attendance were Director of Budget, Catherine Saelua, Treasurer Malemo Tausaga and Department of Human Resources Director Lynn-Alaimalo Pulou.

During the hearing Senator Magalei Logovi’i pointed out the witnesses were called back for clarity as there are different figures submitted by the Treasury versus documents given in the Budget.

 “We want to understand exactly how much funding was used to increase the salaries before we can pass the supplementary budget, this way we can assess, given the report by the budget its $2.9 million while the treasury report says it is $7.1 million.

We cannot make an informed decision unless these figures are correct,” said Magalei.

Adding that the Human Resources director was also contacted for her figures to determine the correct amount of funding that was used.

 “The reality is — if — the figure of $2.1 million is correct, that is where there is a predicament comes as the Fono did not approve such funding to be used for salary increases for financial year 2022.

 “All we want to do is correct this and with the supplemental budget, we can resolve this, to ensure the salary increases are legitimate,” explained Magelei.

Treasurer Malemo says the pay adjustments were included in the budget and all they did was allocate those adjustment for the salaries of Government staff.

However Senator Magalei said that under financial year 2022, the salaries for the Directors are $75,000 however the increase has been reflected under FY 2023 shows an increase to $85,000 for the directors.

 “But the increase was effective during FY 2022, again what we want is to know exactly how much funding was used in the last financial year for the salary increases including the retroactive,” said the Chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Treasurer said $489,464 was used for the pay adjustment and was retroactive.

Senator Magelei then asked for a report outlining the amendments made to the salaries. However Malemo said the salary adjustments are included in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Magalei fired back: “Yes, but it was not in FY 2022, yet these salary increases were effective during the current financial year, without approval by the Fono, so we need the adjustment reports.

 “Also it’s not just the Directors that received salary boosts, but also Deputy Directors and Managers within the government.”

Malemo agreed with Magalei and said they have the report on all the salary adjustments but he’s cautious because the last report submitted to the Fono was printed in the Samoa News newspaper the next day.

 (Malemo is referring to an article printed in the paper on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, where Samoa News published the full report on the adjustment of directors’ and deputy directors’ salary increases.)

 “We will submit a report later on about this, we cannot release this report because these [sic] are sensitive information as there are information of government employees on this report.

“I’m very cautious; it was submitted thinking this was between us, but the very next day it was printed in the newspaper.

“We also have a boss and that is why we are cautious, this is government staff information,” said Malemo.

This did not sit well with Senator Magalei and he questioned why the Director is refusing to give them copies of what they have on hand.

Malemo did not budge, saying they will prepare a report and submit it at a later time for the Senate’s information.

Senate President Tuaolo said the Senate called them to appear in the spirit of working together, but evidently there is some confusion.

 “The report is already out, what other report are you refusing to release Malemo,” asked Tuaolo.

 “Why are you trying to hide information on the increase to your salaries, this is public information and the public have the right to know, how much your salaries are. Why are you trying to hide it?

 “We don’t want to go another way to get the information required by the Fono.

“We want to understand how can these retroactives be traced back when it was not approved.

“We are not trying to sabotage the Administration, that is not the what we are trying to do here; if the salaries are appropriate given the work directors do, so be it, but we need to know how we can fix this legitimately, this is public information,” said Tuaolo.

 “I don’t understand what you are trying to hide, your report is already here Malemo.

“And we are trying to move forward and find a way to legalize the increase of your salaries.

 “You all know Cathy (Budget Director), any salary increase has to be approved by the Fono by way of supplemental budget and this is what we’re trying to do here with the supplementary budget on hand,” reiterated Tuaolo.

Adding the budget for financial year 2023 has been approved, including the increases to the salaries, but it was not included in fiscal year 2022 where these increases were effective.

Malemo apologized and noted they will submit a report later on what was requested.

Last month, the American Samoa Government submitted a supplemental for fiscal year 2023 in the amount of $7.4 million with $4.1 million for the emergency response in Manu’a including but not limited to response to the Manu’a tremors and potential volcano eruptions, evacuation of residents, construction of escape routes and safe zones.

According to the bill it appropriated the sum of $ 7,405,000 to the following agencies for the indicated purposes:

1     Legislative branch to address additional critical operational needs for the Legislature’s operation that are not addressed in the FY 2023 budget, $500,000;

2    Governor’s office to extend the Centennial book contract to support newly created chapters to document the current administration, $250,000;

3     Governor’s Office for the completion of the American Samoa Veterans Memorial, $300,000;

4     Governor’s Office to provide local matching funds for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law projects, $500,000;

5     Department of Legal Affairs for legal fees for off island counsel in ongoing and anticipated litigation, $500,000;

6     Samoan Language Commission to pay for rent, salaries, and other expenses, $500,000;

7    Territorial Audit Office to pay for salary and related personnel expenses for a Territorial Auditor or Territorial Audit Office staff, $150,000;

8     Governor’s Office to provide for the American Samoa Resilience Commission and the Governor’s Resiliency Office for administrative and staffing needs, $100,000; and,

9     Governor’s Office for drug enforcement efforts, $500,000.

According to the bill, the funds of $7,405,000 shall be made available to the respective departments and agencies from unbudgeted, unobligated, and unexpended revenues from Fiscal Year 2023.

 “This Act shall become effective immediately upon passage by the Legislature and approval by the Governor due to the urgent need to assist in providing adequate funding for government operations.”