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Senate president calls for ASPA budget information to expedite hearings

fili@samoanews.com

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie has called on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to work with their counterparts in the House to get the rest of the American Samoa Power Authority budget for the current fiscal year approved as soon as possible.

The Fono last year approved only the first four months of FY 2012 for the power authority as lawmakers were disappointed that not all of the financial information sought for the budget review was received. Some lawmakers complained during their debate that ASPA was not forthcoming with financial information for the Fono to review.

During yesterday’s Senate session, Gaoteote explained that the current ASPA budget ends Jan. 31, and both the Senate and House would need to approve the rest of the ASPA budget for the current fiscal year, or the entity will be without approved funds to operate.

Gaoteote recommended that the Senate budget chairman, Sen. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, work with the Senate ASPA/TEO Committee chairman Sen. Velega Savali Jr.,  and decide upon a time when the Fono can finish up the ASPA budget. He said all reports should be requested now, so that the reports are reviewed in advance of any hearing.

Velega informed his colleagues that he has already written to ASPA officials seeking financial information on the first quarter spending for FY 2012. He said once this report is received and reviewed his committee will thereafter schedule a hearing, with the goal to have it done before the end of this month.

Gaoteote said ASPA should be well prepared to provide the required financial reports to the Fono since the authority is fully aware of their situation with only a four-month budget.

Meanwhile, the issue dealing with ASPA was raised by Gaoteote on Monday when he responded to Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s State of the Territory Address.

Gaoteote informed the governor that the Fono carried out numerous hearings on ASPA but lawmakers still had concerns over the lack of financial information from the authority, resulting in ASPA receiving only a four month budget for FY 2012.

He told the governor that the public is suffering from high electric and water rates imposed by ASPA and the community is in dire need of relief from these high rates.

Gaoteote also said the problem with ASPA at this point — and it is the Fono’s belief —  that ASPA is not honest and forthcoming with its oral testimonies and written statements to lawmakers. For example, he said ASPA has claimed that it was making money as well as savings on fuel expenditures as a fuel supplier, but none of those savings have been passed on to customers as promised by ASPA more than two years ago.

(ASPA's financial officer explained to the Fono during one of the Senate ASPA hearings held last year that the money it was making from the fuel division was being used to pay down the utility's debt, and until these debts were paid off, these savings could not be passed on. ASG's unpaid utility bills, the lack of their subsidy in past years from the government/ Fono and US-EPA federal regulations have contributed to ASPA's debt crisis, according to ASPA officials.)

He also explained that ASPA had raised electric rates not long ago and it was an ASPA statement to the Fono that they don’t get any federal assistance for this type of service—but that appears to be untrue with the millions of dollars the federal government has provided to build their new power plant in Satala while the customers are faced with the hardship of trying to pay utility bills.

(Samoa News should point out federal disaster funding for the power plant is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, following the 2009 earthquake and tsunami)

Another problem that the Fono is facing with ASPA, says Gaoteote, is that there are several board members on the ASPA board of directors whose terms have expired but have not been replaced or reappointed.

(Current law states that an incumbent board member may continue to serve after the expiration of a term until a successor is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.)

Gaoteote reminded the governor that both sides of the government need to continue to work together in order to achieve any good results, which will in the end be beneficial to everyone.