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Following layoffs, ASG shipyard board called before the Senate to explain

fili@samoanews.com

Cost saving measures by the American Samoa Shipyard Services Authority board submitted to the Governor’s Office include the removal of an employee who the governor wanted hired at the government owned Marine Railway, along with reducing the number of board members.
 
Board chairman David Robinson, accompanied by board member Galumalemana Bill Satele, made the revelation during a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Communications/Fisheries Committee, whose chairman Sen. Afoa L.S. Lutu called the hearing after receiving word that some five people had been given lay-off notices last week.
 
The committee was also very concerned and unhappy about the hiring of an employee, who is an ASG retiree and is drawing a high salary, but is rarely at work.
 
The employee’s name was never revealed throughout the hearing, but Samoa News has confirmed with some senators that it is Unasa Leroy Ledoux, who was initially appointed to the shipyard board in February 2013.
 
But seven months later Unasa was replaced on the board with the governor saying that Unasa was not employed in government. During Wednesday's committee hearing, Unasa was in the Senate gallery.
 
Because the shipyard is established by executive order, its board is not subject to Fono confirmation.
 
As previously reported by Samoa News, the shipyard board — after a full assessment — laid off this week five employees as the government entity is faced with economic difficulties in the fisheries industry. (See Samoa News story Feb. 26 for more details).
 
During the Senate hearing, Robinson explained the reason for the layoffs as part of the board’s cost cutting measures submitted to the Governor’s Office. He said another savings for the shipyard is that its engineer, who drew an annual salary of $75,000, has returned home this week to New Zealand due to family matters.
 
Asked for the reason for the lay-offs, Robinson told the committee, “we don’t have enough work. It’s as simple as that. There isn’t enough repair work coming in.”
 
Besides the layoffs and the New Zealander leaving — which all saves money for the shipyard — Robinson says the board has asked the governor to reduce the size of the board from the current nine members to five, which was the previous number. He says this reduction in board members will be a savings of $20,000 a year.
 
(Currently each board member gets an annual stipend of $5,000 and the chairman $6,000, according to the executive order which created the shipyard service.)
 
“And we’ve also asked the governor to relocate [to another ASG agency] a person who the governor had asked us to hire in the capacity of compliance officer,” Robinson told the committee, noting the shipyard cannot afford to pay this person.
 
He said all these cost savings, if fully implemented, would save the shipyard $100,000+  annually. He also said that while cash flow is okay at this point, there is concern the shipyard will run out of cash by June.
 
“At the moment we have cash, but it doesn’t take long to eat up that cash,” Robinson noted, adding that the board has asked the governor for a $100,000 loan, which can be made available to the shipyard in case it’s needed, and they are awaiting a final response from the Governor’s Office on this issue.
 
Several senators were not happy about the employment of the compliance officer, while low paying workers are laid off.
 
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said this employee is making a high salary and he is a retiree, “yet people who were laid off are from low income families” and maybe some of these families depend on that one paycheck to survive.
 
“The person you’re referring to was imposed — I suppose — upon us by the governor, [who] asked the shipyard to employ this person,” was Robinson’s reply. “I resisted it for quite some time because I didn’t really want to spent this sort of money and I didn’t have the budget for it, but the governor insisted that I hire this person.”
 
Robinson explained that this individual is actually paid $35,000 and the job duties include working with EPA, and for safety and other issues. He agreed with the senators that this individual rarely comes to work.
 
Responding to other questions by the committee, Robinson said the shipyard has scheduled up til the middle of July a number of longliners, but there is not much money earned on longliners, which usually require sandblasting and painting. He says the average earnings per longliner is between $20,000 to $25,000 per job.
 
However, if a purse seiner goes on dry dock — like one of the vessels for Tri Marine International, which currently has about nine boats based in the territory —“ the work involved... on a purse seiner could bring anything up to $200,000 each time. So that’s where the money is, not in the longliners.”
 
Between now and the middle of July, the work scheduled is for longliners and two ASG tugboats but these “are small jobs, I’m afraid,” he said and pointed out that one Tri Marine purse seiner scheduled for last December was canceled as it went out fishing and another purse seiner is scheduled for next month.
 
He said Tri Marine has committed its locally based purse seiners to be serviced and repaired at the shipyard as it suits their schedule and for this “ we are grateful”.



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