SSIC resumes hearings with inquiry into TALOFAPass web system
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Senate Select Investigative Committee (SSIC) on Monday resumed hearings on the government’s $6.4 million TALOFAPass web system proved by the Honolulu-based company DataHouse Consulting Inc. by questioning the company’s local representative Mrs. Saipai Cassens-A'etonu.
SSIC Chairman Senator Togiola T.A. Tulafono began the line of questioning focusing on the warehouse that the company leases from local businessman Peter Young when it set up shop on-island and according to Cassens-A'etonu, the lease agreement was signed in May 2022.
She explained that this was after much searching for suitable office space all over the Tafuna area and Peter Young’s warehouse was the best place because it was the biggest by far, newly constructed and a little bit more up-to-date than the rest of the places they reviewed.
By then, she had hired five local employees and she was still looking for more office space because the company planned to expand its local workforce which they hoped to train and send to cater to contracts in Hawaii and the mainland.
Togiola asked how she had come to contact Young about his building, to which Cassens-A'etonu stated that she had approached Young about his building and she had inspected the premises and took pictures and shared them with the team in Hawaii.
She explained that her best option actually was not Young’s building but was in fact another building, but it had already been taken.
Young’s building was the next best option because it was the biggest and the most up-to-date, which she clarified did not need any maintenance as it was recently constructed.
“One more question,” Togiola said. “Prior to speaking to Peter Young about leasing space in his building, did you have occasion to speak with his wife Sandra King-Young?”
“In regards to the leasing of the building, Sandra was not involved in those discussions,” Cassens-A'etonu replied.
“Did she at any time indicate that her husband’s building was available?” Togiola asked.
“No, absolutely not,” Cassens-A'etonu answered.
“Did she have anything to do with your company’s decision to rent space from Peter Young?” Togiola asked.
“Did the subject of leasing her husband’s office space ever come up in any of your conversations prior to leasing space there?” Togiola pressed.
“The only time there was a conversation was after we had signed the lease agreement with her husband and she wasn’t too happy about that,” she recalled with a laugh.
Togiola asked her what Sandra had been upset about and Cassens-A'etonu answered that she did not tell her.
Responding to Senator Satele Aliitai Lili’o who asked what her position was in the company, Cassens-A'etonu stated that she was the Accounts Executive and that she runs the company’s operations in American Samoa.
She also revealed that she has a staff of five local employees and their company plans to employ a further 30 local employees including college students, young adults and anyone interested.
She stated that their company provides extensive training for their employees in Hawaii and the mainland, and that currently two ASG employees at the Governor’s Office are being trained so that when their contract expires, the operation will be handed over to the government.
Senator Togiola requested that Cassens-A'etonu report back to the committee after consultation with her company’s management, when to expect the rest of the documentation that the committee had requested and also to provide the names of the individuals currently employed by government who have been trained to take over the company’s operations at the end of their contract.
Togiola explained that Cassens-A'etonu had not been subpoenaed but had responded to their request to provide information explaining DataHouse’s operations, and thanked her for appearing before the committee.
The SSIC will resume its hearings this morning after the Senate regular session to investigate the Kiterunner vessel incident.
Samoa News reported in October, 2022 that during an SSIC hearing, Tofoitaufa Sandra King-Young testified that she has been accused of “criminal conduct and collusion” in relation to the TALOFAPass and her husband’s business “is completely irrelevant to the TALOFAPass”.
Tofoitaufa was responding to questions about her husband’s building where DataHouse, the company that won the bid to create the TALOFAPass, is one of the tenants and whether this was a conflict of interest, given her involvement with DataHouse and the TALOFAPass system, the government’s screening tool.
“I have been accused of criminal conduct including collusion and I'm gonna be honest about this, about my husband,” said Tofoitaufa during the SSIC hearing.
She said the comments were made by people that did not win the tender of the TALOFAPass web system.
“The undertone of the question is not comfortable for me because I can tell you this, the lease to DataHouse for my husband's warehouse is completely irrelevant to the TALOFAPass.
“This is a company that decided to set up shop in American, which is what the government is trying to do to attract businesses here.
“They (DataHouse) went looking for a suitable space all over the Tafuna area and the best place they found was my husband's warehouse, which is one of the newest construction projects on island.
“And everybody knows that; so my husband had two tenants he was interviewing for the space, the National Pacific Insurance was one and DataHouse.
“And I want to tell you honestly I advised him not to at lease to DataHouse because of the optics but he made a business decision.
“I was not involved in that decision — of who he rents his warehouse out to — but there was nothing criminal about my husband leasing to DataHouse,” the director of the American Samoa Medicaid State Agency said.