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Citing local statute, Speaker Savali responds to ASPA

fili@samoanews.com

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale has disputed claims made by American Samoa Power Authority board chairman Asaua Fuimaono that ASPA’s annual budget falls outside of the Fono’s jurisdiction, and the House leader finds the statement troubling.

Savali made his concerns known in a July 26 letter to Fuimaono, following the board chairman’s reply in June to Rep. Larry Sanitoa on several issues dealing with ASPA. Savali opted not to address any of the other issues in Fuimaono’s letter except the matter of ASPA’s budget.

Savali said what he finds the “most troubling” is Fuimaono’s assertion that “ASPA’s budget falls outside the appropriations authority of the legislature”, that “ASPA’s board has the final authority to approve ASPA’s budget”, and that “ASPA is not required to follow a budget approve by the Fono”.

He said that it “may be a disappointment” to Fuimaono, but local statute — ASCA 15.0101 — which established ASPA, as a “governmental agency within the executive branch of the government”, makes ASPA a part of ASG and, as such it is included in the budget process, which is contrary to the board chairman’s belief.

Savali also points to the Revised Constitution which grants the Legislature the authority to pass legislation of local application and requires that any money bills enacted by the Legislature shall not provide for appropriations which exceed amounts available from revenues raised by tax laws and other revenues measures.

Instead of the $90 million for FY2011 approved by the Fono last year, ASPA is using a budget of $120 million for the current fiscal year. Fuimaono says ASPA is a user-funded, semi autonomous agency, supported wholly by its user rates, charges, and fees.

“Because ASPA is not funded solely on annual appropriations — and in fact, receives no appropriations — from the legislature, ASPA’s budget falls outside the appropriations authority of the legislature,” Fuimaono had said in his letter to Sanitoa.

Savali said in his letter that under the ASPA statute, the Fono granted ASPA the authority to develop its rate structure, or enterprise fund revenue measures, for the utility services it provides the public and those rates, in turn, generate the revenue which can be appropriated back to ASPA to support its operations.

“Those revenues are public funds, as defined in our laws, i.e. ‘any money, credit, or gifts, in kind, from whatever source derived, used directly or indirectly for the support of any agency’,” Savali wrote. “These funds, which have been the lifeblood of ASPA, come from individual residents and businesses and, in the past, have been appropriated to support ASPA operations.”

“I assure you the Fono will continue to consider them in the budget appropriation process and determine in what manner they are to be expended,” he points out. “Further, the Fono will continue to exercise its oversight authority to ensure they are not squandered or wasted.”

“Should the Legislature determine, for example, that there are funds in excess of the amount for necessary operations or which are not being properly utilized, it could direct those funds to a more worthy or needful area, particularly insofar as there is no requirement that revenues which ASPA generates be deposited into ASPA accounts as there is in the Medical Center enabling statutes,” he said.

Savali agreed with Fuimaono that ASCA 15.0107 does provide that the board approve its annual budget, which is included in the governor’s budget process.

“...however, you seem to choose to ignore how that relates to our budget and appropriation laws and procedures,” he told Fuimaono.

The House Speaker cited other provisions of the law dealing with the budget process and the Fono’s authority to review and approve budget submission, which includes all grants, loans and moneys received from the federal government or other agencies, both governmental and nongovernmental.

As for ASPA using a $120 million budget for the current fiscal year, Savali said this funding level was rejected by lawmakers, who adopted a spending level of $90 million.

“Additionally, ASPA is required to return to the Fono in the event it implement any rate increases, and, it has. I will see that the House schedules appropriate hearings when the Legislature convenes in August,” he said. (ASPA never returned to the Fono when new rate increases went into effect this year, which were reflected in the May billing.)

Savali dismissed Fuimaono’s claim that ASPA is “distinguishable” from any other ASG department or agency. He said he views the authority granted the Fono in these matters “as being part of our system of checks and balances and interwoven in our system of government for at least two purposes”.

“One, to ensure no one branch — or agency within a branch — exerts undue or excessive control over functions of another branch; but more importantly, that the government — or a particular agency of the government — not be allowed to exert that level of control or influence over individual citizens and the public,” he added.



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