Fono convenes next week in final session of 2014
Lawmakers will convene next Monday for the 4th and final session of the 33rd Legislature with two measures on their priority list. The first is the budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1 this year; the other is the Immigration Amnesty measure.
Both the Senate and House will convene at 10a.m. in their respective chambers for the start of the new session, that's expected to last through the end of September or first week of October, depending on the length of time lawmakers take for a mid session recess, and the holidays between now and September.
For example, next Wednesday is Manu’a Flag Day, a local government holiday and then Sept. 1 is Labor Day, a local and federal holiday. There are already unconfirmed reports that the Fono will be taking an early mid session recess starting sometime this month, because there are many lawmakers attending the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa's annual conference hosted this year in Carson, California.
Samoa News understands that an official announcement from the Fono leaders on their mid session recess will be made Monday. The Fono hopes that when they return following the recess, the FY 2015 budget will have been submitted by the administration.
The ASG Budget Office in April this year informed cabinet directors to maintain in the FY 2015 budget proposal the same ceiling levels of their FY 2014 budget, which ends Sept. 30 this year.
With regard to the Immigration amnesty proposal, it was submitted to the Fono last month. The measure would allow more than 2,400 foreign nationals who registered during the recent amnesty campaign to reside legally in American Samoa.
The Amnesty Bill will temporarily increase the existing numerical quotas as prescribed by law. The proposed legislation also included just over 1,000 people lawfully present and already in the Immigration Board queue awaiting their quota to become available.
In anticipation of the budget review, some lawmakers have asked the Legislative Financial Office for financial data from the executive branch and other semi autonomous agencies.
Early last week, Rep. Larry Sanitoa again requested assistance from the LFO in obtaining financial data pertaining to the LBJ Medical Center, including the financial spreadsheet for the second and possibly the third quarter of FY 2014, which ended on June 30. He is also seeking a breakdown of the 2% wage tax as well as payroll data for the last two years.
Sanitoa says he didn’t receive all of these reports from LBJ after his first request was made early last month through the LFO. He said these reports are critical and contain all the relevant information that will aide lawmakers in making informed and thorough decisions during the FY 2015 budget hearings.
Last week, Samoa News reported that an analysis of ASG’s financial reports by the Legislative Finance Office for the FY 2014 second quarter — Jan. 1-Mar. 31— confirms that based on the trend of collections and spending, the government is forecasting a shortfall at the close of fiscal year 2014 and the LFO recommends immediate cost saving measures.
Legislative Financial Officer, Talalemotu Mauga made the conclusion in a report to Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, with copies to the chairmen and members of the Senate and House budget committees.
In other ASG financial news, Samoa News reported yesterday that Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga met recently with officials of the private auditing firm of Moss and Adams regarding the financial audit of the American Samoa Government for fiscal year 2013, which ended Sept. 30, 2013, and the single audit report and financial statements are due to be released soon.
The governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said on Wednesday that according to the independent auditors, “an unqualified opinion would have been issued for the entire government had it not been for the Hospital's financial system deficiencies.”
He said, “Consequently, an unmodified opinion was issued on the governmental activities while a qualified opinion was issued on LBJ Hospital Fund. (An unqualified opinion is considered clear and clean; while a qualified opinion is the opposite.)