Supplemental bill: Joint budget committee shifts stipend and bonus payments to ConCon
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Fono Joint Budget Committee made amendments to the Administration’s $12.65 million supplemental budget bill for fiscal year 2022 but the final total remains in tact. The committee’s decision was made following a hearing last Friday morning where several ASG officials were called to testify.
After the joint hearing, the decision was reported during the respective sessions of the Senate and House where both chambers approved in second reading their respective versions of the supplemental appropriations bill — with three major amendments made by the joint committee.
The Administration proposed $500,000 to the Governor’s Office for paying stipends for board members and $375,000 to the Governor’s Office for bonuses to be paid to certain employees in multiple departments for their work on American Samoa’s COVID-19 response.
The Fono deleted the entire funding for these two projects and reallocated the entire amount to the Governor’s Office to provide for the Constitutional Convention including personnel, supplies and contractual service.
The initial allocation in the supplemental for the Constitutional Convention was $500,000 and after the Fono’s amendments, it now stands at a total of $1.37 million.
JOINT COMMITTEE HEARING
At last Thursday’s Senate session, Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean asked senators to think about the funding allocation for the Constitutional Convention planned for next year — whether the amount should be left as is, reduced or increased.
And during last Friday’s more than 2-hour joint budget committee hearing, Tuaolo posed many questions to the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Tuimavave Tauapa’i Laupola including about the Constitutional Convention, asking how the Administration came up with the allocation of $500,000 for this project.
Tuimavave responded that the estimated cost was based on previous Constitutional Conventions and other assessment information gathered by the Governor’s Office.
Tuaolo then pointed to the $375,0000 for “bonuses” to paid to certain employees working on the COVID response and asked if such a payment isn’t covered under federal COVID-19 money allocated to American Samoa.
Tuimavave responded that provisions of the COVID funding does allow for such payments and that none of the COVID-19 Task Force members are paid for their work.
Tuaolo also sought an explanation on the “stipend” for board members to which Tuimavave responded that many ASG boards cannot convene due to the lack of a required quorum and the stipend is something to assist members for their time and effort and also with the hope that members would show up during board meetings if given a “stipend”.
However, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale pointed out that the law only provides for stipends for certain government boards and commissions and that should be the only stipends allowed to be paid out.
Another question from Tuaolo deals with the $2 million allocated to the Governor’s Office for capital improvements, historic preservation and rehabilitation for executive housing. Tuimavave explained that this money would provide further financial assistance to upgrade and renovate the Governor’s official residence on Mauga o Ali’i. He says it funds not only the historical mansion’s upgrades and renovations but also widens the road heading up to the mansion to accommodate larger vehicles such as fire trucks [which is work that is already underway].
Additionally, this funding also assists with necessary repairs and upgrades to the Lieutenant Governor’s official residence — which is located just below Mauga o Ali’i, across the street from Sadie’s by the Sea hotel.
For the other $2 million, in the supplemental bill, allocated to the American Samoa Medicaid State Agency to provide local matching funds, Tuimavave says the money ensures there is sufficient local matching funds for Medicaid.
Several lawmakers raised concerns over funds allocated to cover pay increases cited in the supplemental budget which is only for fiscal year 2022 but how is government going to fund these increases for future budgets? However, Tuimavave’s reply — made several times — still didn’t address the Fono’s concerns and lawmakers still remain concerned.
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i informed ASG Budget Office director, Catherine Saelua — another ASG witness for the hearing — that come fiscal year 2023 budget, she will have to come up with money to cover the pay increases in the supplemental budget.
The supplemental budget bill is funded from unobligated and unexpended revenue from fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to supplement the FY 2022 budget. See Samoa News edition last Friday on all 18 projects/ programs to be funded with the proposed supplemental budget, and includes ASG agencies set to receive funds to pay for salary increases.