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Fono in Review: 3 week recess on tap

reporters@samoanews.com
[Samoa News file photo]

Both the Senate and House yesterday approved their respective concurrent resolutions calling for a three-week mid session recess to commence at the close of business this Friday and reconvene on Mar. 4.

The identical resolutions state in part that the Legislature, having conducted work on pending matters and in order to preserve legislation session days for most efficient use, it is appropriate to temporarily recess Fono business to fully prepare for disposition of additional and incoming agenda.

Both chambers will now go through the usual protocol of endorsing each other’s resolution to make it official for the recess.

Major work this week for lawmakers deal with cabinet confirmation hearings, except for a House committee hearing later today dealing with the American Samoa Power Authority.

RETIREMENT FUND BOARD OF TRUSTEES MEETING

The recess also coincides with the ASG Employees Retirement Fund Board of Trustees’ meeting set for later this month in Honolulu. The more than 20 members of retirement committees of the Fono are invited to attend and their air fares and per diems are paid for by the Retirement Fund.

Whether or not newly appointed members of the board will be attending, or the old members, or both is not clear.

Samoa News reported on Monday that the Governor’s Office confirmed last Thursday that the governor “will reconstitute” the ASG Employees Retirement Fund board of trustees, which will convene its first meeting later this month in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Lolo is currently in the process of identifying names for the new Retirement Fund board, said the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, who was responding to Samoa News inquiries. The governor has not indicated who he will appoint to the new board.

The old board members are Aleki Sene Sr., who is chairman of the board; former Lt. Gov. Faoa Sunia; Fanene Morris Scanlan; Magalei Logovi'i, former ASG Treasurer; and, Brant "BJ" Judy, a former chief financial officer for G.H.C. Reid Ltd., Co.

The value of the ASG Employees Retirement Fund reached more than $214 million and earned more than $13 million in fiscal year 2010, which ended on Sept. 30. 2010, according to a Fono summary report of February 2011’s Retirement Fund meeting held in Honolulu.

The report, prepared by the Senate President's Office, was based on details, information, and presentations made at the Honolulu meeting on Feb. 23-24, 2011 and attended by Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, as well as members of the retirement committees of both the Senate and House.

STATUS OF ASG-ASGERF $30MIL LOAN

Rep. Larry Sanitoa wants to know the status of the $20 million dollar loan from the ASG Employees' Retirement Fund. The Tualauta faipule told fellow lawmakers during the regular session last week that there is no clear figure as to how much of the money remains but as far as he knows, only $1.5 million is left. He asked the House Speaker to instruct the appropriate House Committee Chairman to look into the issue and find out whether a report can be submitted to the Fono, detailing the balance of the loan, as well as a list of all the expenditures.

REQUEST TO BAN PARKING ON THE FAGATOGO MALAE

Rep. Maugaoalii Leapai Tusipa Anoai has written a letter to acting director of the Department of Parks and Recreation Maeataanoa Pili Gaoteote addressing the parking of vehicles on the Fagatogo Malae. The Fagatogo faipule said that for some time now, the Department of Public Safety and patrons of ANZ Bank have used the malae as a parking lot. “Vehicles damage the grass on the field which we have seen for years and makes it very difficult to regrow or even replace,” Maugaoalii wrote.

"The goal of creating a pristine aesthetic to the town area is defeated because of the unclean appearance of the malae caused by vehicle treading," he continued. Furthermore, "the trampling of the malae creates muddy conditions in which dirt is either carried onto the roads in and along the village or causes vehicles to get stuck and creates more damage."

Maugaoalii is requesting the malae be closed off to vehicles and that access be secured with a chain at all times.

The Fagatogo lawmaker said that while there is understandably a lack of parking for vehicles in the town area, "that challenge cannot be met by creating a separate and often times larger problem."

He concluded, "Regardless of parking issues, the proper direction we should take is resolving the damage to the malae and that can only be accomplished by prohibiting the traveling and parking of vehicles on the grounds."

EVACUATION AND FLOOD CONTROL MITIGATION IN FOFO COUNTY

A house resolution calling for Gov. Lolo Moliga to instruct the director of Public Works to make plans and immediately implement an excavation and flood control mitigation construction project for the Leafu Stream in Leone extending from the Leone waterfall to the Pala Lagoon went through first reading in the House of Representatives last week.

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Puletuimalo Koko requests use of remaining funds from the Western District ASG-ASGERF $20 million loan to pay for the project.

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale reminded Puletu that the allocations of the loan has already been passed in the Fono and re-appropriation must first be submitted in bill form and passed by the legislature.

The resolution notes that throughout the years, the flow of water in the Leafu stream has become obstructed by debris, litter, and construction; and during heavy rainfall, causes major flooding, endangering life and damaging property of Leone residents. "After a flooding, the stagnant water in and around homes causes serious health hazards as it becomes a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects as well as contaminating clean water supplies in the village wells,"

The resolution states, “In order to alleviate and mitigate the dangers posed by the current conditions of the Leafu Stream, a project to excavate and mitigate flood control construction starting from the Leone waterfall to the Pala Lagoon must be drawn up and immediately implemented by the government."

The resolution states that "without immediate rehabilitation and remediation of this stream, residents of Leone will continue to be exposed to these unsafe and unnecessary conditions."

MISSING ASG FUNDS IN VIETNAM BANK

Rep. Lemapu Talo wants the ASG Treasurer to update the Fono on the status of the $1.2 million in missing government funds that according to the previous administration was wire transferred by a hacker and dumped into a bank in Vietnam.

As of last year, the money was said to be sitting in an escrow account at the Vietnamese International Bank, pending a final report from authorities on their investigations.

The hacker was unable to draw down the funds as authorities had already alerted the bank about the illegal transfer.

To date, the Fono has yet to receive an explanation on what happened to the money and who is responsible.

STATE SMALL BUSINESS COMMUNITY INITIATIVE

Rep. Puletuimalo Dick Koko has requested a hearing on the status of the State Small Business Community Initiative (SSBCI), a loan program for small businesses.

American Samoa was awarded $10 million under the program and the first allocation of about $3 million was drawn down early last year. However, to date, none of the money has been used due to the reluctance of the local commercial banks to participate.

In his state of the territory address, Governor Lolo said he has ordered the ASG Treasurer to work with the federal government to revise the guidelines for this particular program.



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