Falema'o Pili confirmed
Falema'o "Phil" Pili is the new Treasurer of the American Samoa government, after the House of Representatives confirmed his appointment with a 14-3 vote on Friday. Falema'o was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, with a vote of 14-2.
Falema'o appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Fatulegae’e Mauga on Thursday, at which time he told lawmakers that while he does not have all the answers, he can review and continue to search for solutions that he can forward to the Fono so they can work together and collaborate. He said he wants to work with the legislature, and teamwork is needed because the job cannot be carried out by just one person alone.
He acknowledged that the current economy is in a bad state and everyone needs to look forward, and not behind. "We need to take the things we learned from the past, and use them so we can be better for the future," he told lawmakers.
Chairman of the House Committee on Budget and Appropriations Rep. Timusa C. Lam Yuen told Falema'o that he wants to understand the government's financial status. He said he wanted to know Falema'o's plans for addressing the audit findings for 2011. The Tualatai faipule said there is a lot of federal funding assistance coming to the territory but nevertheless, there are still problems with accountability and spending.
Falema'o responded that he reviewed the audit reports for 2009-2011 and the first thing he looked at was the findings. He referred to the single audit and financial statements saying he already has people lined up to look into this. "It's going to take a little time," Falema'o said, adding that the audit for 2012 will be released next month and he anticipates the findings to decrease by the time the 2013 audits are completed.
Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli S. Moliga advised Falema'o to remember that money matters need to be brought to the Fono, adding that in years past, it has been common practice to exhaust funding and then bring it to the Fono's attention later.
Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen told Falema'o to look into the usual practice of directors showing up to the Fono, when summoned, with only one sheet of paper when a full quarterly report was requested. “Even then, we find out later that the accounts are still in the red,” said the Aua lawmaker. “In addition to insufficient information, the Fono is always being made to wait. I urge you to look into this, as well as some budgetary issues within ASG departments and agencies.”
Faimealelei concluded, “This is not an easy job. Be firm and be strong in your decisions.” He told Falema'o to treat everyone equally, and not to hire people strictly because they are the same religious denomination as he is. (Falema’o is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints/ Mormon).
Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo inquired about the status of the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR), where Falema'o served as head before being nominated for the ASG Treasurer position — whether or not it will be a separate agency or fall under the umbrella of the Treasury Department.
Falema'o replied that Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga wants to place TOFR under the Department of Treasury, and it will operate as a division like the Tax Office and Customs. He said TOFR was its own agency based on advice from the federal government, and this was to make it easier and faster for money to be paid out. He said the functions of TOFR will remain the same but it will now fall under the Treasury Department, and as a result, there will no longer be a TOFR director position.
Saulo also asked Falema'o to address the budget overrun. Falema'o said the governor talked about this issue during his state of the territory address. He said the 2013 budget was overstated but assured the lawmakers that there are solutions, adding that the governor has plans in the works, plans that will be ironed out and set in stone in the next couple of weeks.
Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai touched on the issue of accounts receivable and payables. He said a review was conducted on this, and he says it appears that there is a projected overrun of $5 million, based on the numbers and figures from the 2011 financial statements.
“What is the current deficit?” Taotasi asked. “We need figures and numbers.”
Taotasi pointed out that the budget overrun for 2005- 2010 amounts to over $70 million. In the 2011 report, there was an $8.9 million budget overrun for that year. "These are big amounts when added together," the Ituau lawmaker said. "It seems that there are serious problems with the whole budget process. It looks like there are questions with forecasts and projections. Why?" he asked. “Why is it that every year during audits, there are recommendations?”
Taotasi then used the 2013 TOFR budget as an example and said the reason the budget was overstated, was because TOFR operates on a 5-year cycle as opposed to the 1-year cycle for ASG, and that numbers weren’t calculated correctly. Falema’o did not respond.
However, Falema'o acknowledged that there were errors in what was projected in the overall budget, and that is why the deficit is higher.
He said part of the reason is because individual taxes were overstated and now they are trying to re-forecast revenues — trying to set a basis on how to forecast accurately. "This is a big issue, a big problem," Falema'o said. He assured the lawmakers that aside from the regular audit. a report should be ready by next month. He admitted that the biggest problem is that there is no formula in place and it’s basically pulling numbers from here and there.
“The forecast will be reviewed at the end of the month, and it was based on the first three months of this quarter,” he explained. He added that collections have been steady and the governor intends to submit to the Fono a plan to address the issue.
Rep. Lemapu Talo told Falema'o that policies and procedures need to be revisited, as these are already in place but in his opinion, enforcement is lacking. He referred to the budget overrun of $8.9 million as stated in the 2011 financial report and asked Falema'o if he is the one responsible for overseeing this.
To everyone's shock, Falema'o said currently, there are no policies and procedures and that is why he has assigned someone to establish these within Treasury.
Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava told Falema'o that quite frankly, he just doesn't believe or trust anyone anymore, only Jesus. “If you mean what you said that we shouldn't look back but instead, look forward, then I will give you my trust to carry out this role and do the job right.”
Falema'o concluded the hearing by saying that this is a new day in his life and he knows there is a big blur with the audit reports and the picture of the government's finances.
“There is a need to correct the problems,” he said. adding that he will look into all possible solutions. “I’m really an optimist. I look at the positive side of things. There are so many things we can do, so many resources we can reach out to. I will strive to be a Treasurer you all like and can depend on.”
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