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Samoa News Editorial: Another thought for 2012 General Election

editor@samoanews.com

I hate ASPA. Raise your hand.

They control my water, electricity and solid waste disposal, which means they literally permeate (think odor) all aspects of my life — night and day — because I like indoor plumbing; lights at night in case things go bump in the night; cooking my food (I don’t forage at my age); and, sitting on my ‘comfort seat’ at 3 a.m. contemplating my towel shelf and the meaning of life, as I try and figure out how I’m going to pay all my bills and, still feed and clothe my kids and be a happy camper… Flush.

I hate ASPA the semi-government authority. Not the individual people who work for it, but the actual entity itself. It’s become so big —XXXX employees and counting —that what you have is a group (no longer individuals), moving at the direction of political appointees, making sure they perpetuate and maintain themselves, with my hard earned money — make that the community’s hard earned money.

Every penny ASPA saves seems to be translated into paying off debts they incurred from poor management or to enrich themselves via payroll while throwing federal requirements in our face as a shield to their piggery.

Are we surprised? No. It’s business as usual for ASPA — the entity —much like any large corporation, only this one has ‘preferred’ shareholders that appoint and hire each other — with impunity, lacking fiduciary responsibility and certainly not acting with either personal or social responsibility toward us, the community.

Where have you heard that before? It’s one of the things in the argument the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has about the unequal distribution of the world’s wealth to 1% of the population.

In this case, I make the point that it’s the ‘unequal distribution’ of control over our power, water and waste management utilities by an authority that has the mission statement: to “Provide quality, safe, economical and sustainable utility service in partnership with our customers, the community of American Samoa and the Pacific Region”.

ASPA’s action with the across- the- board utility raises, despite public outcry —customers and community — bears witness to the unfairness that is flowing out of this public entity.

The recent cash bonuses paid out to certain ASPA employees at a time when we, the public, are reeling from high rates and superimposed “fees”, shows the authority’s contempt of the public.

And speaking about contempt, ASPA’s lack of diligence to produce in a timely manner, the mandated Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs survey indicates the lack of professional and technical proficiency within this once proud organization. American Samoa and the Virgin Islands were the only two territories that had not provided (as of Aug. 12, 2011) any data for the Needs survey that is used to determine future grants for the territory’s water needs. The purpose of the Assessment is to document the 20-year capital investment needs of public water systems that are eligible to receive Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) monies. As directed by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA uses the results of the survey to allocate DWSRF funds to the states and territories.

The 13 containers sitting idle in their Tafuna yard, filled with seven million dollars worth of foreign built solar panels that do not meet TEO standards for a project that’s supposed to help mitigate our utility rates — again screams out their incompetence and disregard for our community.

Quite frankly, the only partnership we can possibly see is the incestuous one ASPA management has with its own board; and in turn the board’s relationship with the governor. This was evidenced when ASPA board chairman, Asaua Fuimaono, told the Fono that the ASPA board interprets local statute as ASPA having control over its own budget, not the Fono; and the only one that can tell ASPA otherwise, is the governor of American Samoa.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono recently backed his ASPA board’s actions when he vetoed the Fono bill that would have prohibited ASPA from increasing any rates, fees or charges until further action by the Legislature and to maintain such fees, rates and charges at the Sept. 1, 2011 levels.

(I actually didn’t agree with the bill, either give them their budget or not. If not, take them to court to force the ‘pule’, once and for all; and if you lose — then explain to the public how you the Fono have no control over a public authority. It’s all the governor’s show.)

Back to the governor: What is most telling in the veto, are Togiola’s remarks about the utility:

He said the law allows ASPA to develop and promulgate rates in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, “thereby insulating ASPA’s rate changing policies from politicization.”

“Subjecting ASPA rates and fees to the legislative process, where either political motivations or simple disapproval by either house of the Legislature or the governor could derail a necessary increase, is a risky, unwarranted, unnecessary and unproven method which could damage ASPA’s ability to maintain its current level of service and plan for the future,” Togiola notes.

According to the governor, rates and fees should be set in accordance with, among other things, ASPA’s operational needs, its plans to maintain and upgrade its infrastructure and the market price for fuel.

Don’t you just love ASPA? …that non-political, self perpetuating, loving, caring public entity?

When we vote next November in 2012, let us remember this:

The governor we vote into office, controls ASPA!

Raise your hand.

BTW: While ASPA has said nothing about the foreign made solar panels currently sitting in their yard (see story in today’s issue) — of interest are two bits of information from the TEO official who spoke to Samoa News:

1            It is one of six projects being monitored by TEO and funded by the US Dept. of Energy through grants using ARRA or stimulus funds; and are all focused on reducing the cost of electricity to the public.

2            These projects should stop ASPA from further raising rates, and the official would be willing to testify to that fact  if ASPA increments another raise.

Raise your hand!