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Fono taking ASPA to court over budget authority

fili@samoanews.com

Fono leaders have directed their legal counsel to proceed with filing a legal action in the High Court over the American Samoa Power Authority’s interpretation of local law dealing with approval of ASPA’s annual budget.

At the same time, the Fono has moved to expedite the approval of over $45 million to fund ASPA operations for the next six months.

This was the outcome of the closed door Fono joint budget committee meeting on Monday after lawmakers questioned ASPA officials regarding the semi autonomous agency’s budget for the rest of fiscal year 2012.

The Fono during last year’s budget process approved only $30.86 million — which is 34% of ASPA’s FY 2011 approved budget of $90.78 million — to fund operations from October 2011 to January 2012.

However, ASPA’s first quarter performance report for FY 2012 shows that the entity was using a FY 2012 budget of $118.47 million— which was the budget proposal ASPA submitted to the ASG Budget Office for the fiscal year.

ASPA chief executive officer Andra Samoa told the committee on Monday during the joint budget hearing for ASPA that the $118.47 million budget proposal is based on “our interpretation” of a provision in Title 15 of the local law, which gives the ASPA board authority to approve its annual budget.

After ASPA witnesses were dismissed from the hearing, lawmakers went into a close-door session for discussion. Samoa News learned late Monday afternoon that one of the results of the meeting was that Fono legal counsel Henry Kappel was directed to proceed with legal action against ASPA for not following the budget law approved by the Fono and signed into law by the governor.

The Fono is also seeking legal interpretation of the law dealing with Title 15. Lawmakers have argued that it is the Fono that has the final approval of ASPA’s annual budget as well as the annual budgets for all entities and departments of ASG.

The Fono’s legal action will take a couple of weeks to prepare before it is filed with the court.

Also endorsed during the close-door meeting was for the Fono to approve funding for the next six months, based on the $90.78 million total budget of FY 2012— and not the $118 million proposed by ASPA.

Yesterday a $45.39 million supplemental appropriation bill for ASPA was introduced in both the Senate and House and the funding request is to cover ASPA operations from Feb. 1 to July 31, 2012.

Of the total supplemental, $36.08 million is allocated for electric division; $5.71 million for water division; $2.08 million for wastewater division; and $1.49 million for solid waste. The bill also provides a breakdown on how much money is to be spent in each expenditure category, such as personnel, travel, equipment etc.

Funding for the supplemental comes from utility rate revenue, fees and charges for the current fiscal year, the bill states.

The measure also makes it clear that any new revenues received during FY 2012 from any source are deemed un-budgeted revenue and is to be deposited into a separate account and be available for immediate appropriation by the Fono without waiting for the end of FY 2012.

YESTERDAY’S BUDGET HEARING

Samoa and other ASPA management officials returned yesterday to the Senate chamber for day-two of the Fono joint budget committee hearing where lawmakers asked a wide range of questions.

Samoa restated that ASPA’s budget proposal for FY 2012 is $118 million, adding that ASPA cannot afford to operate under the $90 million plus ceiling set by the Fono. Additionally, she said the $30.8 million for ASPA to operate in the first four-months of FY 2012 was an amount that did not assist the entity.

ASPA chief financial officer Susana Fai’ivae pointed out that ASPA’s operations are 24/7 and therefore cannot operate with a set budget ceiling or a budget approved for only a period of time.

Samoa added that ASPA continues to operate under the $118 million budget proposal, based on its interpretation of Title 15.

Rep. Tu’umolimoli Moliga told the ASPA witnesses to “set aside your belief” and interpretation of the law and to operate in accordance with what was passed by the Fono and signed into law by the governor.



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