Senators say too many 'governors' giving orders
Some senators have called on the Attorney General’s Office to assist government offices and departments in providing legal advice and opinion to ensure laws of the territory are followed, instead of department heads doing their own interpretation, which — according to some senators — means there are too many governors in the government giving orders.
The verbal request was made directly to Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale when he appeared last Friday before the Senate Rules Committee on a hearing pertaining to a Senate measure.
During the hearing, Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli requested the new attorney general to spend additional time with senators as there were some issues he wanted Talauega to be aware of due to Senate concerns over recent developments.
Galeai said the newspaper — referring to Samoa News — reported last Thursday about the Treasury Department’s Customs Office imposing a hike in the excise tax on vehicles, and the following day, the newspaper reported the increase had been rescinded.
The senator said the word used was “misunderstanding”, but the AG’s office should have been consulted first for a legal opinion. He asked Talauega to provide assistance to ASG departments in order to ensure that everyone follows the law. He says this will prevent public confusion and problems that don’t need to happen in the first place.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono agreed, saying that what’s been appearing in the newspaper lately with comments from heads of departments, is conflicting at times. He said these comments and directives show there are “too many governors” giving orders, yet there is only one governor.
Soliai recommend that Talauega not shy away from giving a legal interpretation of the law to government entities, adding that _the Attorney General is responsible for the entire government and if the government is affected, it’s the AG who protects the government and the people.
He says if the AG doesn’t do his legal duty, the Senate will summon him to be questioned.
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i requested the AG look at a new issue that has surfaced recently in the Senate where farmers are now required to have business licenses. He believes farmers are exempt from paying taxes and therefore are not required to have business licenses.
He said this issue has surfaced from the Agriculture Department.
At last Wednesday’s Senate session, Sen. Faletagoai I. Tuiolemotu noted that he was very concerned with the latest requirement by government for farmers to have business licenses. He noted farmers depend on their plantations to help their families and some of them are low income families — and now the government wants to take away money by requiring a business license and permits.
Agriculture Department director Lealao M. Purcell told Samoa News last Friday that the requirement for a business license is only for farmers who well their produce to the Department of Education’s federally funded school lunch program, as this is a federal regulation.
During the Senate committee hearing, Magalei said he agreed with Soliai’s statements that there are now too many governors in the government.
Sen. Alo Fa’auuga said he counted at least five governors based on what’s been reported by the newspaper recently; and said everyone must follow the law or there won’t be a good government for the territory.
Magalei added that any legal opinion issued by the Attorney General is considered the only valid and important one. However, he says that a legal opinion last year issued by then Attorney General Afoa L.S. Lutu, who is now senator, was not honored and this is not the right thing to do for any ASG department or agency.
“When the Attorney General issues a legal opinion, that is the law, unless it’s changed by an executive order, or the law is changed by the Fono,” Magalei said, but didn’t provide details of which legal opinion he was referencing.
(Afoa issued a legal opinion that waives the excise tax on fish caught by local longliners in American Samoa’ Exclusive Economic Zone, but it was ignored at the time by the Treasury Department.)
At the end of the hearing, Talauega thanked senators for relaying their concerns and their recommendations. He said it’s important for the government to work together for the benefit of the entire territory and urged the Senate to call on him if assistance is needed in any matter that will help the government.