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ASESRO staff denies there is a 1602 ‘draft report’ — instead calling it an ‘internal memo’

fili@samoanews.com

The draft report on the federally funded Section 1602 program is only an “internal memorandum” for review by the American Samoa Economic Stimulus & Recovery Office (ASESRO) executive director Pat Galeai, who was surprised along with ASESRO staffers that it ended up in the newspaper, two days after it was presented for Galeai’s review, and the contractor who prepared the document has since left the territory.

This is according to ASESRO testimony at yesterday’s hearing by the Senate Government Operations Committee, whose chairman Sen. Velega Savali Jr. explained to the ASESRO witnesses including Pat Galeai, that the purpose of the hearing was for senators to get a better understanding of the draft report as reported by Samoa News.

The Development Bank of American Samoa (DBAS) administers the Section 1602 program and the draft report was the subject of three separate stories published by Samoa News.  The draft report, revised July 11, 2012 didn’t identify any particular person by name, but it did refer to individuals and their positions. For example, it cited the DBAS president, the Senate President and others by position but not by name, except for DBAS vice president Jason Betham, who was identified.

During the hearing, Velega sought some information from the witnesses, especially as to who is the author of the report, and who in the office is on the Compliance staff that worked on the Section 1602 program.

ASESRO official John Utu explained that the so-called draft report is not a complete report but instead is an “internal memorandum” from the staff to the director for review. But before the director had a chance to fully review it, the information was in the newspaper. He said the office was still working on collecting more information and data to substantiate what was in this memo but before they could, it was in the newspaper.

Utu stressed to senators that information in the memo needed further review and proof of evidence and that there is no final report on Section 1602.

Sen. Lualemaga Faoa sought the names of those on the compliance staff and Pat Galeai identified four of them, as well as an Independent Contractor named “Gail” who assisted the compliance staff, whose responsibility includes ensuring that local and federal regulations are followed.  (Gail’s last name was never revealed in the hearing.)

Asked by Lualemaga who leaked the “memo” to the newspaper, ASESRO official Tuilaepa T. Te’o, who also works with the compliance staff, says this matter is under review and is being researched by the office, which was surprised that this information was reported by the newspaper.

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli says he wants the probe into this entire matter to be a lesson, in order to prevent it from happening again, especially when it comes to these types of reports, which are government property.

He said that what’s important to him is to find out how this draft ended up at the newspaper, when the executive director hadn’t had a chance to fully review it and no final report was ever issued.

Asked as to who put together this report, Pat Galeai said what Samoa News published is “not a report” but is a “draft memo”— an inter office memo, from the compliance staff to him and the “memo” was prepared by Gail, the Independent Contractor.

“My interest is to see that this doesn’t happen again,” said Sen. Galeai, adding that at least he knows for sure who prepared the memo. He also said that the government has rules and regulations that protect its property, including reports, which are official government business.

“We are clear now that this is only a memorandum within their office and not a report,” he added.

Responding to more committee questions, Galeai said this memorandum was revised at least three to four times and the last revision was on his desk on a Tuesday and after reading it, he found changes added to the document.

So he contacted one of his staffers for Gail to attend a meeting but he was told that Gail was out sick - and this was a Wednesday, said Pat Galeai, who noted that some of the new add-on changes had “offensive language” and he was not happy with it.

He said he wanted to question Gail for more details on the changes, but the next day, Thursday, the newspaper had a story on the draft report and it was that same evening that Gail traveled off island, paying her own travel where she would be gone for three to four weeks.

He also said that it was made clear to the staff from the beginning that the any report must come with facts and supporting evidence and not a report to damage anyone else, or be one-sided. He emphasized to the committee that this is an internal memo and that no final report has been issued because the project is not closed.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson thanked ASESRO for their hard work to ensure control of spending, disbursement of that money and monitoring to ensure local compliance. However, he said this is one issue in which ASESRO has missed in their good work.

He said these types of reports result in government liability and it’s the taxpayers that will end up having to pay for such liabilities, due to negligence of workers.

 He said reports should be correct; “be professional” and the person who leaked this report “should be fired.”

“All of the good work you’re doing” is tainted by this report, released “prematurely”, Alo told the witnesses, and noted that the witnesses are fully aware that before a report is put together, verification of facts should be done first.

“Of course there are problems with the projects” under this program, he added.

Alo also said he is saddened with the “lack of professionalism” in putting together this report, which was not complete and without supportive evidence, and has leaked out, painting a negative picture of the government off-island.

“I know you have to write a report, there’s no doubt” but do a report that is right and makes anyone happy, he said and if there are problems identify them, “point out the problems professionally.”

And what ever homes are not completed, that should be documented as well and identified as to what happened and the cause of it and “be fair” in the final report, he said and informed Pat Galeai that “you need to do something” about the person who leaked the report “because it shouldn’t happen in your office. It’s destroying your morale; it’s destroying the good work that you do. And you don’t need anyone like that working in your office.”

(Whether or not “Gail” leaked the report or someone else, is something that was not clearly stated during the hearing. )

Replying to a committee question, Utu said the Section 1602 program ends Dec. 31 and that ASERSO records indicate there is no money left for this program, but he is not sure of what is on DBAS records.

Sen. Paogofie Fiaigoa said there are a lot of Section 1602 units in his Tualauta county, but not many occupants,

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie said when a draft report is leaked out, the fault is with ASESRO and the leaked report has affected many individuals in the community, as some recipients were identified in the report.

He said if he asked ASESRO right now if there are any regulations that prohibit the Senate President from applying for this program, the answer is no, because none exist. He questioned the reason for using only certain recipients’ names in the report and it appears that the report is targeting certain individuals in the community because of who they are.

He asked a couple of times why names of recipients were used in the report, including the President of the Senate, who is an official of the territorial government. He said the public has the right to protect their privacy and other rights due them as an individual.

He said a lot of senators are affected by his matter. At this point, Gaoteote appeared angry in the tone of his voice, as he lectured ASESRO about identifying individuals in the report.

(Samoa News reminds readers, no names except for Jason Betham’s appeared in the report. Certain senators, including the president of the Senate were mentioned as recipients of the 1602 grant, again not by name, with the possibility of a conflict of interest, as the DBAS president must be confirmed by the Senate to serve in the position.)

Velega then started to intervene and Gaoteote responded that this was the reason the witnesses were brought in as requested by the committee so the witnesses could explain and respond to what was in the draft report, “lipoti matavalea”, or stupid report published by the newspaper.

Final questions and comments from the hearing as well as suggestions to call before the committee the reporter who wrote the stories published by Samoa News on the Section 1602 draft report will be in tomorrow’s edition.



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