Senators irate after Treasurer is a no-show at hearing
The much anticipated drama featuring the Senate versus Lolo’s $4.3 million reprogram bill didn’t go through as planned, after the star of the show, ASG Treasurer Falema’o Phil M. Pili, failed to show up for last Friday’s showdown.
Spectators, including Fono employees and media representatives, gathered in the Senate gallery to witness the action, as senators came prepared with direct questions and stern comments about how ASG anticipated a huge deficit of some $10 million this past January but now expects a savings of $4.3 million at the end of FY2013 which ended Sept. 30.
Senators were not very pleased with Falema’o’s failure to show and ended up tabling the bill for further review next January, when the 3rd Regular Session begins.
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee convened Friday morning to hear testimonies from Falema’o and directors of ASG departments and agencies who underspent their FY 2013 budgets. The leftover monies are to be reprogrammed to other departments and agencies expecting to overspend their FY 2013 budgets.
The only witnesses to show up were deputy treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a and Budget and Planning Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua. Samoa News understands Falema’o departed Thursday night for an off island government meeting.
Committee chairman Laolagi F.S. Vaeao told senators that 24 hours after the committee announced last Tuesday the hearing on the bill, he received a call from Falema’o informing him he would not be able to attend the Senate hearing.
Laolagi said he told the Treasurer the decision on whether or not to attend the Senate hearing, which was scheduled 72 hours in advance, was up to the Treasurer; and the committee also needed to make a decision on whether or not to accept Falema’o’s absence.
He distributed to senators Falema’o’s letter received Friday morning prior to the start of the hearing. The letter provided no explanation why the Treasurer was not able to attend the hearing, except to say, it was “due to unforeseen circumstances” and offered his sincerest apologies.
Falema’o assured senators in the letter that Tonumaipe’a was well versed in the subject matter and could provide the information to senators. He pointed out “our government will close the fiscal year in the black for the first time in the last several years” and it’s through the commitment of the governor and lieutenant governor that “we have attained this significant goal.”
Although Falema’o’s letter is dated Oct. 3 (last Thursday), Laolagi told senators he only received it early Friday morning before the hearing. He also noted it was made clear by the committee when the hearing was scheduled that only directors — including the Treasurer — are allowed to answer questions and no one else.
Sen. Galeai M. Tu’ufuli described Falema’o’s non-attendance in Samoan as “le mafaufau” or disrespectful to the Senate.
Gaoteote agreed and told senators he is very saddened and disappointed with the letter, which he does not accept as an excuse for Falema’o’s absence.
He said the Senate has honored the governor’s call for a special session and cabinet members should be supportive of the governor and be present when called to discussed issues on the agenda for the special session. He says it appears that directors are not making the special session a priority.
The Senate president pointed out the governor had spoken of “good governance and justification” but where is the Treasurer to testify on the justification of this proposal?
He said Falema’o is the only one who can answer a wide range of questions on the bill and gave examples:
There is the $625,000 from the Scholarship Fund to be reprogrammed to other departments, but what happened with the Scholarship Fund in FY 2013?
In the FY 2013 Supplemental Budget approved by the Fono in April and signed into law by the governor, there is $550,000 as partial payment for the Laufou court case, but now that money is being reprogrammed for other purposes under the bill?
Then, there is a $1.15 million to be reprogrammed to “misc. unbudgeted programs” without any explanation?
Gaoteote said ASG is already in the new fiscal year 2014 and any leftover monies from FY 2013 is considered a “surplus” and thereby should be placed in the General Fund account for the Fono to appropriate next year.
Galeai suggested the reprogrammed money be set aside to help fund payroll for those ASG employees who are furloughed at this time due to the partial federal government shutdown because no one knows when the shutdown will be lifted.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono suggested not to reject the bill, but to table it until next year as there are some very important issues in the measure that require further clarification from the Treasurer.
Sen. Faumuina Tagisiaali’i suggested the committee continue with the hearing so other cabinet directors can testify on why money from their budgets were reprogrammed to other departments and offices.
Laolagi responded that only Tonumaipe’a and Aigamaua-Saelua showed up for the hearing, and no other cabinet director. He said what is happening is like a movie — when the “main actor” is not there — the movie is not good at all. In this case, the main actor is the Treasurer and he failed to appear before the Senate.
In the end senators approved a motion to table the bill in committee for further consideration in January. The House has also tabled in committee its version of the bill.
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