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$50 Million in debt — State of the Territory thus far

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told a gathering last Friday that the American Samoa Government owes some $50 million in debt and coming up with funds to address this debt is not going to be an easy task for the new administration.

This is the first hint of how much ASG owes while the Lolo Administration is awaiting specific financial details from the local Treasury Department as to the current financial status of the government.

The information was revealed during Lolo’s special remarks at the swearing in ceremony held at the Office of Samoan Affairs for officials of the Department of Local Government, which includes the new Secretary of Samoan Affairs, district governors, county chiefs, village mayors, and village police.

Lolo didn’t provide specific details or elaborate further on the huge ASG debt but the government’s financial status will be the top issue in his first State of the Territory Address today before a joint session of the Fono to officially open the 33rd Legislature.

The governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said last Friday that Lolo, in his Fono address,  will “spend time to clearly present the current financial status of the American Samoa Government based on the information we have available to us.”

As to where ASG’s financial situation stands at this point, Iulogologo says the Treasury Department is currently trying to “reasonably determine the government’s financial position.”

Twenty-four hours after taking the chief executive post, Lolo issued a general memorandum implementing various “cost containment measures”, saying that such action was “an attempt to aggressively respond to the deteriorating financial health” of ASG “caused by the steady proliferation in the amount of legal liabilities, prior years’ operating deficits, increasing accumulated outstanding obligations and many executed but unbudgeted expenditures for the current fiscal year.”

Among the measures taken, are that unbudgeted personnel action will be rescinded, unbudgeted positions will be suspended, and a freeze on annual increments and overtime is being imposed. These measures are meant to last through the current fiscal year, unless amended, based on ASG’s poor financial condition.

In past State of the Territory addresses, a sitting governor would provide for the Fono the government’s financial status now and going into the future, as a picture of the territory’s overall economic situation. It also would include ASG services to the public over the last 12 months and plans for future.

Another item that a sitting governor usually provides to the Fono are measures he intends to propose. Asked what new bills the governor is expected to submit to the Fono, Iulogologo explained that “unbudgeted spending which has been executed must be legitimized by Fono approval, which means a supplemental budget is required. Unfortunately a source of funding is yet to be identified”.

The governor’s office says the specific details of unbudgeted expenditures are being finalized. They also say that other proposed measures for Fono submission are names of the new members of ASG boards and commissions, amendments to current immigration laws, and  proposed changes to the statute that created the American Samoa Power Authority and other governing legislation for authorities.

Also to be considered by lawmakers are cabinet appointments that are subject to Fono confirmation. Lolo has already publicly announced the appointment of former attorney general and veteran attorney, Afoa L.S. Lutu as the new attorney general and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official William Haleck as Police Commissioner.

Last Friday, the governor issued two separate memorandums to officially announce the appointment of Le’i Sonny Thompson as director of Human Resources Department and Iuniasolua Savusa as director of the local Homeland Security Department.

Le’i and Savusa—both candidates for the lieutenant governor posts in last year’s gubernatorial race— are military retirees.  Le’i was a former director of Administrative Services Department under the Togiola Administration.