ASPA to senators: Samoa News ‘twisted story around’
American Samoa Power Authority maintains that the media—referring to Samoa News —incorrectly reported that ASPA had an $8 million surplus for FY 2011, while at the same time, ASPA’s chief financial officer admitted not all of the expenditures had been included in the report submitted to the Executive Branch and that had not been noted.
The Samoa News report of the surplus was based on figures outlined in the ASPA 4th quarter performance report for FY 2011 and the report was also distributed to the Fono with several lawmakers pointing to a surplus. However, ASPA came out swinging with full-page advertising, telling its customers that Samoa News was incorrect.
The surplus was one of the issues raised last week in a Senate ASPA/TEO Committee hearing where ASPA officials were called to provide testimony. Committee chairman Sen. Velega Savali Jr. says media reports prompted public outcry, and ASPA responded with public notices as more complaints reached the Fono.
He said it was like a “war” between the media and ASPA, adding that the Senate wants to hear directly from ASPA on this “surplus” issue, which comes at a time when the authority has raised rates for water, waste water and trash collection.
Velega did point out that it was the ASPA quarterly performance report that led lawmakers to reach the conclusion that there is a surplus for FY 2011, while ASPA — through their public notices—is claiming otherwise.
The utility’s CFO Susana Fai’ivae told senators that there is “no surplus” and apologized for any misunderstanding, saying that the deadline to submit the report was Oct. 15 and figures cited in the report were the figures that were available at the time.
Fai’ivae said it was learned afterwards — when the rest of the numbers for the fiscal year came in— that more money had been expended, including grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following the 2009 tsunami disaster. The federal grant money was for two major projects — temporary power generation provided by Aggreko and the new temporary power generating facility in Satala, she noted, and reiterated that more expenditures came in for the fiscal year after the report had been submitted to the Executive Branch.
Velega said better information, or an explanation, should have been included in the report so that there would be no confusion about a surplus. He says “surplus” is a big word that quickly attracts attention — especially an $8 million surplus.
ASPA chief executive officer Andra Samoa pointed out that using the word “surplus” was not ASPA’s doing, but the “newspaper” used it. She did note that the performance report gives the impression that ASPA ended with a surplus, but that was not the case at all.
She said ASPA assumed too much, believing that the ASG format for reporting financial statements for the fiscal year would accurately reflect their financial situation. ASPA should have made notations on the report to ensure accuracy when reading the report, she said.
“We have cash flow problems now,” she said, adding that it was an increase in ASPA grant revenue from FEMA for tsunami related projects, such as the temporary power system in Satala, that gives the appearance of a surplus.
Velega said since ASPA has come out with its side of the story through the public notice, some appear to understand, he does not know whether others in the public really do understand, as there are some in the community who believe ASPA is not telling the truth.
He then asked ASPA how much money was spent on the full-page advertisements in the newspaper, because that money could have been used for other important matters.
ASPA board chairman Asaua Fuimaono said the newspaper notice was ASPA’s response to the community to correct the statement regarding a surplus, adding that its response was not a “war” with the media — as referred to by Velega.
“We have an obligation to our rate payers to present our side of the story,” added ASPA customer service manager Ryan Tuato’o, who added that “we don’t control the newspaper” if they twist the story around.
“We wanted to correct the mistake,” he added.
As to the cost of the print advertisement for the notice, ASPA officials said it ranged between $130 to $150 per page and there is a discount when there are more days for publication.
Samoa News stands by its story, published Nov. 18, 2011, “Final FY2011 ASPA report shows $8 Million surplus”, which reported on comments by several lawmakers that the ASPA 4th quarter FY2011 performance report indicated a surplus; and our own review of a copy of the report indicated likewise.
Further, in the cover letter of the performance report, written by the ASPA CEO highlighting her agency’s performance, there is no mention that ASPA has a cash flow problem; that the reported cash position of ASPA did not reflect ‘committed funds’ to federal projects; that expenses were still being compiled; or that there was an increase in ASPA grant revenues from FEMA for tsunami related projects.
Instead, Samoa noted that Accounts Receivable continue to rise, and the “community continues to be concerned with the increase of rates.”
In the cover letter, she does highlight the agency’s efforts to “contain and control its divisional spending”, its work to lift the Boil Water Notice, the successful transition to the Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) for the Satala Temporary Power Generation system, its new ULSD gasoline product, as well as other successes, such as the commissioning of new engines for the Faleasao Power Plant and working with local and federal partners with regard to general infrastructure and renewable energy projects.
And, as Samoa said in last week’s hearing, there were no notations throughout the quarterly report to ensure accuracy when reading it.