Fono confused, says Governor
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga believes “there is big confusion in the Fono right now” as to the purpose of the $4.3 million reprogramming bill, and the governor has offered to “personally” appear before the Legislature to answer any questions and to ensure its passage.
The bill is meant to reprogram monies from departments and offices whose budgets are underspent in fiscal year 2013 to agencies projected to face overruns.
Both the Senate and House have tabled their respective versions of the bill in committees for further consideration when the Fono returns next January.
Some senators have gotten wind of Lolo’s comments at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting — that the Fono is confused by the bill. Lolo told directors that a reprogram bill had never been done before and the Fono was used to receiving supplemental appropriations, “but never a reprogramming bill."
The purpose of the bill, the governor said, “is to satisfy the requirement of the law that any transfer over and above $25,000 will have to be submitted to the Legislature for approval.”
He also said the $4.3 million in the reprogram bill was money already approved by the Fono and this money represented savings by the administration in FY 2013 following cost containment measures implemented early in the year.
“The confusion with the Legislature right now, is that they’re taking that [$4.3 million] as new money, but it's not,” Lolo said. “It’s money that was left over, it's been appropriated, but the only reason we submit it to the Fono is to satisfy the requirement of the law.”
According to the governor, this move is “more or less an accounting exercise to balance the books” at the end of the fiscal year. He also noted that his authority is only up to $25,000 and therefore it’s important to follow the law by having the reprogram amount approved by the Fono.
In Lolo’s letter, received yesterday morning by the Fono, the governor said to ensure that answers are comprehensively provided over the reprogram bill, “I am available at your convenience to personally appear before the Legislature to respond to any and all questions which may jeopardize the passage” of this bill.
The reprogram bill, “is a significant piece of legislation for all of us leaders,” he wrote. “We look to the past for best practices to guide our journey and to empower us to effectively negotiate the multitude of uncertainties strewn in our path into the future.
“We also learn from the past, practices deemed to be in violation of prevailing statutes and for us, current leaders, to discontinue such practices,” he said, adding the bill “represents your efforts and mine, to make right the government’s operating practice that is plainly in violation of the laws of American Samoa.”
He said passage of the bill makes the Legislature and Executive branches compliant with local laws, including the anti-deficiency act.
During Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Lolo told directors the administration does not want to violate the anti-deficiency act at the end of a fiscal year and reminded directors of the fact.
“When we overrun the entire budget, we are personally responsible for that. And that’s why — when we make decisions to withhold a portion of your [budget] allocation for the quarter — we have that in mind,” he said, adding when the administration first took office in January a 10% across the board reduction was implemented, to ensure that at the end of the fiscal year “we have something to fall back on.”
Lolo says the $4.3 million is the “unexpended funds” from FY 2013 that “we held back to make sure we live within the law.” He also said the ASG Treasurer can vouch “we have a better budget position today than before.”
With savings in FY 2013, the governor said, the administration must make sure the same is repeated in FY 2014 “and make sure we comply with the law.”
“So we ask you again, to make sure that what was given to you is what you have to live with,” he concluded.
See Samoa News story in Monday, October 7, 2013 issue for story on Senate concerns about the reprogram bill.
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