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1602: Senate committee charged to find ‘real truth’

The Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Sen. Velega Savali Jr., has been called on to find out the real truth about newspaper reports on allegations surrounding the Section 1602 program — a report that one Senator says disturbs the peace and harmony in the territory during an election year.

In a three-part series (starting last Thursday), Samoa News reported on the draft report — revised July 11th this year — of the federally funded program, administrated by the Development Bank of American Samoa (DBAS), prepared by the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO) 1602 Compliance Staff for ASESRO executive director Pat Galeai.

It was at yesterday’s Senate session that the newspaper story on the draft report was raised by Sen. Mauga T. Asuega, who said he is very saddened with what has been reported in the newspaper, as it affects a lot of people. He said the Bible states that the devil “o le fili” never rests.

He acknowledged this is an election year but pointed out that when things such as those reported by the newspapers from a draft report occur and disturbs the peace and harmony in the community, than it saddens him deeply, when such issues — on the draft report — are not true.

He called on the Government Operations Committee to hold a hearing and find out the real truth and status of this program, instead of what is being reported by the newspaper based on some draft report, resulting in rumors and gossip (‘faitatala’) that ends up affecting individuals or persons, including the innocent.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson thanked Mauga for raising this matter, saying this is an “embarrassing” issue for American Samoa.

“This is a very unprofessional report” which is damaging to the government and “warrants legal suit,” against the government if the allegations turn out to be true, he said and reiterated that it was very “unprofessional” of the author of the report. He said it is “hearsay” and “no facts.”

Alo said he is “very concerned” with the impact this report will have on American Samoa because the draft report is going off island to the FBI and others. And from there it will raise questions on whether American Samoa knows how to manage funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Velega told his colleagues that he raised the same issue last week during the Senate session when he inquired about it with Senate leadership, who also has the draft report but not the final report.

The Senator said there is no use for any final report because word has already spread through the community from this draft report. He said that if the federal government intervenes and finds that the draft report is true, then American Samoa will have to pay this money back.

Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau acknowledged this issue was first raised last week and the reply was that he also has a copy of the draft report, but there is no final report. He said the leadership does not use “incomplete” reports and asked that Velega’s committee look at this issue.

He said it’s best for the Senate to find the right answers by asking the office that came out with the draft report. He also told senators not to let one bad issue taint or destroy the good things this federal program did for the territory.

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli agreed that this draft report, leaked to the newspaper, had stirred up emotions in the community and the bad allegations cited in the report have added another layer of bad publicity for the territory.

Galeai said the question now is — how did this draft report leak out when it wasn’t final? “Is there any truth to the draft [report],” he asked? He also noted that it’s common in the U.S. that news media reports result in various discussions, debates and disagreements.

He supports calling a committee hearing to bring before the Senate officials of the ASESRO to question them about this draft report, which, he says reeked of politics if it’s read in its entirety. Galeai said he disagrees with a statement by the boss of ASESRO that a “draft report is a draft report” — referring to what Pat Galeai said in a news release to Samoa News last week on the draft report.

“So, if it’s a draft, how did it end up leaked out of the office,” he asked?  Galeai did acknowledge that the person who heads this office is his relative, who was not identified by name.

(The draft report did not identity any target of allegations by name.)

After the Senate session, Galeai told Samoa News that he questions the “credentials” of the person who prepared the report, which appears to show that it’s an audit. He questions if the individual is qualified to put together such an important report.

“Making unsubstantiated allegations in a draft report without evidence is serious. We need to make sure that when allegations are written in reports, there is evidence to support them,” he said. “But what this draft report has done is stir up emotions in a politically charged election year.”

“No report should leave an office until it’s final and this should be a lesson for all heads of [ASG] offices,” he said. “This is a big deal to the federal government, especially with Congress looking into the use of ARRA funds.”

The Section 1602 program remains the subject of a Senate Investigative Committee hearing and the SIC has valid subpoenas pending with Pat Galeai to provide all reports pertaining to ARRA.