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ASPA claims elicit strong comments from faipule

fili@samoanews.com

Faipule from Tualauta and Ituau Malosi have responded to the American Samoa Power Authority's claim of a deficit instead of surplus for fiscal year 2011 and the authority's justification of paying out bonuses to certain employees.

Samoa News reported last Friday on the public notice, which is also a paid advertisement from ASPA that began to run in last Saturday's Samoa News edition, and will run through in today and tomorrow's editions. 

The three House faipule are Rep. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., Rep. Larry Sanitoa and Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai (Ituau Malosi). The trio represent two of the voting districts in the most populous area of the territory - the Western District, with an estimated population count of 30,720 people according to the official 2010 Census for American Samoa. Total population for American Samoa stands at 55, 519 as of April 1, 2010 the census reports.

All three faipule point to the territory's hard economic times and the effect of ASPA's rate increases on households that are struggling to feed and clothe themselves, especially those with no jobs.

REP. TAPUMANAIA GALU SATELE JR. RESPONSE

Rep. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr. says ASPA needs to open up its financial books for full review by the Fono's Legislative Financial Officer (LFO) in order to find out where the financial situation stands for the semi autonomous agency,

Tapumanaia was responding to Samoa News questions on his reaction to ASPA's claim that it does not have an $8 million surplus at the end of fiscal year 2011 but instead a deficit of about $9 million. ASPA maintains that it faces financial constraints.

"I think in order for us to get the real deal with ASPA's situation and understand what their real budget issues are we need for ASPA to open their books," said Tapumanaia, who is among the lawmakers very vocally against ASPA's new rate hikes for water and solid waste collection fees.

"The Fono needs to ask ASPA to open their books to the LFO  and let the LFO and his office review their accounts especially in the areas of expenditures vs collections,  their arrears and the cost benefit reports of becoming an oil supplier," he said. "Their budget is cloudy and muddled with confusing reports."

"If there's a solution to finding the truth and to settle this issue for the sake of the people of American Samoa I think it's necessary for the LFO to spend time reviewing ASPA's claims that they are in financial disarray," said Tapumanaia.

"My heart goes out to the people not just in my district but throughout the island. It's the biggest complaint I get on a daily basis. People are frustrated, confused and desperate for real answers or the truth," he said.

Two other lawmakers who spoke with Samoa News two weeks ago suggested the LFO carry out a complete review of ASPA's finances to find out the real situation - is it a surplus or a deficit at the end of FY 2011?

ASPA officials are due back in the Fono in January for the rest of the FY 2012 budget and lawmakers plan to raise lots of questions, especially with bonuses paid out in October after ASPA hiked their rates, pleading a deficit.

REP. LARRY SANITOA RESPONSE

Rep. Larry Sanitoa says it's "appalling" that the American Samoa Power Authority has paid out bonuses to certain employees and "it is certainly a slap in the face for us-- the rate payers who are struggling... to pay our utility bills."

ASPA said in a public notice that the incentive program or bonuses is a long standing program that has been part of "our approved budgets over the years".

"It is the policy of the ASPA to provide a method which affords recognition of exceptional skills, resourcefulness or exceptional acts of employees who perform special acts or services in the public interest which reflect favorably on the image and reputation of the agency," the notice says.

Sanitoa told Samoa News that  "ASPA is insistent of the need for the exorbitant rates to be increased; yet they have made no earnest effort to control spending despite the financial difficulties our government is trying to manage."

"If the bonuses were included in the budget then this is one of the many budget items that was not clarified and needed further review," said Sanitoa.

ASPA further noted in the public notice that the "incentive program has always been part of our budget, but has been overlooked over the past couple of years due to the many projects that have challenged" ASPA since the 2009 tsunami.

However Sanitoa says, paying out bonuses to employees for meritorious performance is not critical to sustaining the utility's operations.

"We are in the midst of difficult economic times, there are a lot of people still out of jobs.  Several schools in our district are reporting their students are coming to school hungry as their parents are still without jobs; others report living without utilities as their parents can't afford their utilities and are having to depend on their neighbors," said Sanitoa.

"Church and charitable organizations are also reporting an increase in the number of families that have signed up for their monthly food and clothing handouts to help needy families," he said. "The adverse social impact of ASPA's increasing the utility rates is becoming more evident as there are more reports of break-ins and domestic violence."

"It is incongruous and arrogant of ASPA to be paying out bonuses and proceeding with their utility rate hike as it is obviously compounding the financial hardship already affecting our people," he said.

REP. TAOTASI ARCHIE SOLIAI

Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai said handing out bonuses to select personnel "is not only absurd, but a gross injustice to the people of American Samoa."

He says ASPA has continually stated they have been experiencing shortfalls in their finances and have not been able to meet their expenses and have used that as one of the main reasons to increase the utility rates.

"I do not recall anything in the [FY] 2012 budget that indicated bonus payments for employees," he said, adding that ASPA has not been very forthcoming about their finances-- not only in the recent budget hearings but also in the past.



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