HOUSE APPROVES $4.3 MILLION REPROGRAM; SENATE HAS CONCERNS
The House yesterday in a unanimous 17-0 vote approved the administration bill to reprogram $4.3 million from 23 offices and departments as well as 12 projects under the Special Program budget category to fund expected overruns at the end of FY 2013 for eight departments and 11 programs under Special Programs.
ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili told House members this week that cost containment measures — including a 10% across the board budget reduction — implemented by the administration since taking office in January this year has resulted in savings by other departments and offices.
The House bill is expected to be introduced today in the Senate where its version of the administration bill was introduced yesterday and assigned to the Budget and Appropriation Committee. Committee chairman Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao has scheduled a hearing this Friday.
Witnesses for the Senate hearing include the ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili who has been asked to provide complete financial details of the departments which have not spent all of their money, as well as those expected to be in the red in FY 2013. Also requested is an updated financial report of ASG for FY 2013.
Other witnesses being called are directors of agencies whose budgets are expected to be underspent in FY 2013. Senators want to know from these directors why did they didn’t spend all the money allocated to them and if they had other needs that weren’t addressed in FY 2013.
“A lot of money is left over from FY 2013,” Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie told senators yesterday, adding it’s too bad this reprogramming and the availability of the $4.3 million was not presented when the Fono was debating the fiscal year 2014 budget, which is now in effect.
During the FY 2014 budget review, the Fono took into consideration throughout the hearings the fact this is the new administration’s first budget submission, and gave the administration the full trust on testimonies regarding the financial condition of the government, he said.
Gaoteote also said the government has a deficit from past years and it still owes money to other vendors, such as the American Samoa Power Authority, yet here’s a reprograming bill by the administration. Gaoteote pointed out the Fono earlier this year approved a $5 million supplement, but now this measure on the reprogram shows the government still has money not expended.
In his letter to the Fono regarding the reprograming bill, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said the administration has “deferred $1.7 million approved in the [$5 million] Supplemental Appropriation... in order to achieve the goal of the balanced budget.”
Another issue raised during the session is the legality of having to reprogram FY 2013 money when the fiscal year ended at 12-midnight on Sept. 30. It was suggested by Sen. Mauga T. Asuega that they seek a legal opinion from the Senate counsel to address this issue.
This same issue was addressed Monday during a House committee hearing where House legal counsel Nathaniel Savali told lawmakers that submitting and acting on the reprogramming after the close of FY 2013 is appropriate.
ASG CURRENT ON ITS ELECTRIC BILL PAYMENTS
ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili has put to rest rumors that circulated in the Fono late last week that the government has paid in full its outstanding debt of $9.4 million to the American Samoa Power Authority.
During a House committee hearing this week, Pili was asked about ASG’s electric debt. The Treasurer said the government is current on its utility bill, paying out some $5 million, but there is still an outstanding debt pending.
Pili gave Samoa News the same explanation over the weekend after rumors circulated in the Fono about ASG making a huge payment to cover the outstanding debt.
ASPA executive director Utu Abe Malae told a Senate committee last month that if the ASG Treasurer is able to pay off the entire $9.4 million debt, ASPA can rebate $3.5 million to all rate-payers and the rebate would be about a 30-cent reduction in the rate for one month.
RETIREMENT FUND BOARD NOMINEES IN THE SENATE
The governor’s re-nomination of seven members of the ASG Employees’ Retirement Fund board was introduced yesterday in the Senate followed by a recommendation by Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie to vote this week on these names.
Gaoteote said these are the same names submitted by the administration early this year, adding that he does not believe there is another need for a committee confirmation hearing since the nominees have already gone through a Senate confirmation review.
At this point, the Senate plans to vote Friday on the nominees, who were originally rejected by the Fono earlier this year. The nominees are Su’a Carl Schuster, Talalemotu Mauga, Avamua David Haleck, John Marsh, Afuola K.S. Nanai, Toafala Iafeta and Brant ‘BJ’ Judy.
Judy is the only returning member of the current board and he was the only nominee who was not on island during the confirmation hearings of the 2nd Regular Session which ended last Thursday.
Last Saturday, the House confirmed Mauga, Judy, Afuola, and Iafeta but rejected Su’a, Marsh and Avamua. But on Monday this week, the House approved a motion for reconsideration of Su’a, Marsh and Avamua, keeping their nominations alive. It's not clear when the House plans to carry out their reconsideration vote.
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