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Take 2: Views on the News

Commentary

ONE MILLION, TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND REASONS THE LBJ CLINICS ARE CLOSED TODAY

We may not know everything about why the money ran short for LBJ, but we do know one million, two hundred thousand reasons why LBJ clinics are closed on Friday and hospital employees are being forced to earn less than full time pay.

That is how many dollars ($1.2 million) are still sitting in a frozen Vietnamese bank account. The money was taken from an ASG bank account illegally last August, according to government officials, but a Vietnamese company going by the name Golden Bee denies that, and says it is money owed to them from dealings with the local government.

The government says that a criminal hacker got access to the ASG bank account and transferred the money without authorization.

If it had not been lost, this money could have been given to the hospital last year, and then matched dollar for dollar by Medicaid. Loss of this $1.2 million cost LBJ $2.4 million, and as a result the clinics are closed on Friday and hundreds of workers are taking an involuntary pay cut.

There are a lot of conspiracy theorists in American Samoa. Has anyone here ever heard of Golden Bee? Does anyone have a theory as to how this happened or what it is all about?

SANCTUARY expansion reboot?

I know it is my job as a quasi-journalist to actually read a bunch of stuff and try to form a judgment as to “who is right” in the great debate over expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

But, honestly, it seems like that would be a waste of time.

Even if at the end of many hours of careful study I concluded that the Fono’s resolution was off base and Congressman Faleomavaega’s concerns are ill-founded, and that the complaints of many local residents were not valid, that wouldn’t matter very much.

What does matter is that there is a lot of anger and opposition to the proposed expansion from territorial leaders and citizens, and that is a terrible foundation upon which to build a program that needs widespread support from the community.

The expansion proposal should be taken off the table to give the Sanctuary proponents time to change the minds of the opposition through education and persuasion or modifications to the proposal. At some point in the future, the Sanctuary proponents can decide whether to push the proposal again, because there will almost certainly always be some opposition.

But continuing to push the proposal now in the face of such passionate opposition is to risk a pyrrhic victory (a victory or goal achieved at too great a cost) that, in the long run, might be a mistake in retrospect because it will harden the hearts of many people against marine sanctuaries.

We need marine sanctuaries. The world needs marine sanctuaries. Let’s not risk the future of marine sanctuaries by forcing this proposal down the throats of those who are opposed to the present proposal.

 I don’t doubt that the Marine Sanctuary Program did everything “by the book” up to this point (though I don’t know if that is true either). But I know that it would be a good idea to throw out the book at this point and proceed differently.

I went to one of the public forums on the proposal, and heard several speakers from the area around Fagatele Bay testify that they were not informed about this proposal. Sanctuary staff and an official from the Office of Samoan Affairs dutifully reported that Samoan Affairs had done the officially correct thing. In other words, Samoan Affairs dutifully informed some chiefs in the hierarchy. Unfortunately, the message did not get passed down to people who believe themselves to be directly affected.

The lesson? Samoan Affairs has to do a better job of ensuring that the message gets down to all the people through the methods it uses, or the government should not consider those methods as effective. 

The opposition began with people who had a personal interest in the sanctuary expansion. But at this point, I cannot escape the suspicion that the sanctuary proposal has become a proxy opportunity for the Fono to stand in opposition to the Governor, and for Faleomavaega to stake out one of his patented positions of principled independence from the federal government and all the other leaders of the territory.

Let’s give the proposal a rest. Next year might be a good time to revive the effort.

FONO STRUGGLES WITH HOSPITAL FINANCES

A few weeks ago, the House and Senate engaged in a mighty struggle and finally reached an agreement to send $3 million to LBJ to cover the hospital’s urgent needs.

But the Governor decided to parcel that money out to LBJ by providing only $1.5 million immediately and $1.5 million if they showed the governor and his task force that they were behaving according to a negotiated agreement the Togiola Administration made with the LBJ Administration that contains austerity measures. e.g., cut hours for staff, close clinics on Fridays, etc.

That has made some Fono members steaming mad. They believe they had been betrayed, because they agreed on the $3 million to avoid austerity measures, not to guarantee them.

At a hearing last Friday, Health Committee Vice Chair Representative Faimealelei Anthony Allen said he was “boiling inside” over this maneuver by the Togiola Administration. He was not the only Health Committee member to express frustration over the situation, but his comments were the most vigorous (Rep. Allen is a vigorous speaker).

Then a few days ago, Senator Galeai Tuufuli Tuufuli told the LBJ management that they should “find themselves a lawyer,” because the negotiated agreement they made with the Administration is contrary to the law and unenforceable.

Galeai’s comment about getting a lawyer were ironic, whether intentional or not, since Fono members have complained about the hospital’s hiring of its own highly-paid legal counsel.

There are lots and lots of angles to the hospital’s financial predicament and it is hard to get a good grip on the situation, which is one reason the House deferred action yesterday on giving LBJ another $2 million. The Senate had approved the action, in part because they wanted the austerity measures eliminated as soon as possible, but the House still had questions about where the money would come from. By deferring action, the House made it impossible for the measure to be approved before today’s four-month Fono recess.

As for fresh ideas for sources of funding, how about the idea of charging a fee to park at LBJ, just as we have to pay to park at the airport? That was the suggestion Vice Speaker Faafetai Iaulualo made to the LBJ management last Friday.

One last side note: the faipule are still wrapping their heads around the $940,000 the hospital has to pay out to cover underpayments it made in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 to 436 employees. Ouch!

Am I the only one wondering if the federal government is going to be looking into underpayments at the Department of Public Safety, which has in the past made a common practice of insisting that people work overtime without getting paid for it?

A version of these commentaries first appeared on the website ‘Tiotala.com’ and is used with permission.



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