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Pay or not pay cabinet for excess leave time ?

Lack of documents hampers legislators in budget review
fili@samoanews.com

The American Samoa Government has included in the FY 2013 budget proposal about $1 million to pay any excess leave time compensation that may be due to cabinet members of the outgoing Togiola Administration. Meanwhile, a senator has called on the government to revisit local regulations and laws to see if this kind of payment is allowed for cabinet directors, who are on-call and work 24/7.

This issue first surfaced Wednesday during the Fono’s Joint Budget hearing for the Feleti Barstow Public Library, when head Territorial Librarian Cheryl Morales-Polotaivao, mentioned briefly in her testimony that the library’s budget contains a “little bonus,” or “separation pay” for her as an out-going cabinet director.

“While I have no plans to leave I guess the government has other plans for me,” she said, but there were no follow up questions from committee members on the so-called “separation pay.”

When asked yesterday morning for confirmation and clarification on this issue, ASG Budget Office and Planning director Malemo Tausaga told Samoa News that each department and agency has allocated in their FY 2013 budget funds to pay any “excess leave” due to the outgoing director that was accumulated throughout the term. He said this includes — if they accumulated any excess leave — the governor and lieutenant governor.

Malemo estimates the entire amount that will be needed to cover excess leave, including that for cabinet members, is just a little over $1 million.

He said the Budget Office asked each department and office to estimate what they expected in excess leave for a cabinet member and to have that amount included in their FY 2013 budget under personnel costs.

In past years, there were incidents where outgoing cabinet members would file for and receive their excess leave compensation, but the money was not in the annual budget. Then when the new administration came into office, money remaining to be allocated had decreased, said Malemo.

“And I don’t want that to happen to the new incoming administration with a department or office left with a lesser budget than what was approved,” he said.

At the start of yesterday’s Fono Joint Budget hearings, Rep. Larry Sanitoa pointed out that a cabinet member had made a statement the day before, about some “sort of separation pay” for outgoing cabinet members of the current administration.

Sanitoa says he wants to know about this and also wants additional information so that the committee has a better understanding.

Malemo says that this particular expenditure is included in the personnel costs for each ASG department and office. He said the governor and the administration believe that excess leave time accrued should be paid out without impacting the next administration

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli followed-up with a question, asking if the governor and lieutenant governor have excess leave to be paid out, Malemo said he is not sure if they do, but if not, the allocated money remains in the budget for the governor’s office in FY 2013.

Although not sure about past administrations, Galeai said this is new to him — an elected governor and lieutenant governor getting paid for excess leave. He also wanted to know if cabinet members take leave and Malemo said “yes.” For example, Malemo said if he takes leaves, a request is submitted to the governor.

Galeai suggested that the administration revisit and/or review current laws and regulations to see if such payments are allowed, because cabinet members work 24-hours a day. The review should also cover pay out of excess leave for any sitting governor and lieutenant governor.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s terms in office officially ends before 12noon on Jan. 3, 2013 and all cabinet members, as required by law, must voluntarily submit their resignation prior to Dec. 31, 2012. 

The end of the Togiola Administration, it is also the end of the first quarter of FY 2013.

 

OTHER BUDGET ISSUES

Sanitoa also raised with Malemo, the status of the FY 2012 third quarter performance report, as well as the most up-to-date status of government expenditures for the current fiscal year. He said there is also a pending request made earlier for the ASG audit report for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. He said these reports are useful during budget review so lawmakers know where current expenditures and revenue collections stand for the government.

Malemo replied that the third quarter report should have reached the Fono by now. As for the FY 2011 audit report, Malemo said he will relay the request to Treasurer Magalei Logovi’i, who has jurisdiction over this matter.

The ASG financial reports cited by Sanitoa, were also raised in both the Senate and House sessions earlier in the day.

During the Senate session, Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson told his colleagues that these financial reports — including the ASG financial statements for 2010 and 2011 — are needed by the Fono during budget reviews.

He said audit reports for the other entities, such as the American Samoa Power Authority, American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority and LBJ Medical Center are also needed prior to reviewing budgets for these entities.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Lemanu Peleti Mauga said a request had already been made to Magalei on the FY 2011 audit report and the reply was that is should be released soon.

As for the semi autonomous agencies, such as ASPA, Lemanu said these are not new requests, as they have been presented before to the proper entity, but he will send new requests.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie called on senators to still carry out their duties when it comes to budget reviews including the review of ASPA, which is a government entity and not a family business.

Sen. Velega Savali Jr. suggested the Fono, or any lawmakers wanting specific financial reports they have been unable to secure, should make a request to the Legislative Financial Office, whose responsibilities include getting such reports if the government is not providing them.



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