Senate rejects all nominees to ASG Retirement Fund board
All six new nominees to the ASG Employees Retirement Fund board of trustees have been rejected by the Fono, after the Senate voted yesterday to deny them.
Neither the Senate nor House voted on the renomination of Brandt ‘BJ’ Judy, who was rejected last week by the Senate during the special session but whose name had been resubmitted at the same session.
Therefore Judy’s renomination was considered not in accordance with the law, according to Fono leaders in their announcement yesterday.
The new nominees to the board were Sonny Thompson, Roy J.D. Hall Jr., Tuaolo M. Fruean, Afoa L.S. Lutu, Robin Annesley-Dalton and Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili.
The governor has the option of re-nominating them when the Fono convenes in January during the 3rd Regular Session.
During their vote, the Senate rejected the nominees with 2-yes and 11-no for Thompson, Hall, and Annesley-Dalton; Tuaolo and Pili were given a 4-9 vote; and Afoa a 3-10 vote.
The House had endorsed Afoa in a 16-2 vote; and Pili, Thompson, and Tuaolo in a 14-4 vote each. However, the House rejected Annesley-Dalton in a 7-11 vote and Hall in a 5-13 vote.
Nominees need at least 10 “yes” votes to be confirmed in the Senate and 11 “yes” votes to be confirmed in the House.
At yesterday’s session, Senate Retirement Committee chairman Sen. Avegalio P. Aigamaua moved for the membership to vote only for Thompson, Hall and Tuaolo— the trio who appeared earlier in the day before the committee for their confirmation hearing.
Avegalio also informed senators the rest of the nominees are off-island and the Senate can take up their confirmation hearing when the Fono convenes in January.
Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie reminded senators the special session had been called by the governor to consider his agenda, including voting on members for boards and commissions — and there is no other session until January, which is when the 3rd Regular Session commences.
Gaoteote went on to point out the Senate convened to accept the special session called by the governor, but there is no cooperation when it comes to witnesses appearing for hearings. He said Judy’s re-nomination was not in accordance with the law and suggested the Senate vote on the other six nominees.
Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao agreed that Judy’s name cannot to be re-submitted during this session and moved for the Senate to vote only on the new nominees. The majority agreed.
In the end all six new nominees were rejected and the vote came at a time when the Senate gallery was crowded with spectators wanting to know the Senate’s next action, after they had rejected all previous nominations to the Retirement Fund board.
As for the Senate committee hearing, which lasted less than ten minutes, there were no questions from senators, who pointed out they are well aware of the three nominees regarding their service to the government and community.
Durning yesterday’s House session, lawmakers agreed to vote on all the new nominees, although on Tuesday, the House Retirement Committee held a confirmation hearing and only Thompson and Hall were present.
Hall told the committee he has been in the private sector for some four decades, including his law practice and his “best qualification” to sit on the board is that he is now a member of the fund and he is keen on protecting it.
He also said he feels that money spent on travel and training for the board needs to be revisited and that people involved in the fund — such as investors and fund managers — should come to the territory instead, so that the community, including the Fono and members of the fund, can hear directly from them and ask questions.
Hall then shared his position on making loans, saying the Retirement Fund may have money for loans, but he believes in looking at loans that will bring big investment returns for the fund to benefit the members.
Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava asked as to the types of loans that Hall would support if confirmed as a trustee. For example, would he support a government loan?
Because the question was not clear, Hall pointed out he would not be in favor of the $20 million loan to ASG approved more than five years ago. For the $10 million loan to the LBJ Medical Center which was made about seven years ago, Hall said the loan was a risk, but he would make sure there is a specific repayment plan to reduce the debt.
Hall also said he would “support short term loans” such as $3 million or $4 million with good investment returns.
Responding to the same question, Thompson said the law is clear on what loans can be made, and the important aspect of the board is to protect the fund.
If there are changes which need made to current provisions of the law dealing with this issue, it’s up to the Fono to make the necessary amendments, he said, and noted he also would support short term loans with good investment returns.
Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr., asked the nominees if they would support a $50 million loan, if one was requested by the governor. Hall replied, “I would listen to it, but my loyalty is to the fund, not to the government,” and he would say “no”.
Thompson responded the law is clear on loan issues and therefore the governor cannot ask for such an amount. However, he again pointed out amendments can be made to change current law, but said current laws are in place to protect the fund.
Rep. Talia Fa’afetai Iaulualo noted that Hall is appointed as a representative of the private sector to the board of trustees and maybe it’s “inappropriate that you are representing the private sector.”
“I’m proud to be part of the fund, but I’ve always been in the private sector,” was Hall’s reply, adding that he gets a small amount on the retirement benefit.
Talia noted that Hall is chairman of the boards of the American Samoa TeleCommunication Authority (ASTCA) and the American Samoa Visitors Bureau and asked if Hall’s duties to these two boards would not conflict with being a trustee of the Retirement Fund.
Hall replied there is “no conflict”, adding he has been in the private sector for some 40 years and he is now semi retired, devoting his time to the community and to ASG boards.
Talia said the government’s Retirement Fund is “considered one of the best in the nation” and asked Hall if he felt the Human Resources director and ASG Treasurer should be part of the board.
In his personal opinion, Hall said, he feels the DHR director should be part of the board but not the Treasurer — who should focus on protecting government finances.
Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen said his biggest concern, which is shared by all lawmakers, is making sure that the fund is fully protected for future generations, and he does not want to see the multi-million dollar fund collapse similar to the pension program for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
He also said that he believes the reason the Retirement Fund board meeting is held in Honolulu every two years — to which lawmakers are invited — is due to the fact there are only two weekly flights between the territory and Honolulu. He says Honolulu is easy access for fund managers, investors and others to attend.
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