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Governor defends calling Fono back for special session

Gov. Togiola Tulafono used his weekend radio program to defend calling back lawmakers for the special session which convenes at 10 a.m. today for a period not to exceed 30-calender days, saying it is necessary in order for the government to address the financial woes of LBJ Medical Center.

Togiola, who returned Thursday night after attending off-island meetings, said he arrived at his office Friday to learn that the Fono ended that day the 3rd regular session and were in recess until July, but had not reached decisions on administration bills or any other resolution to address the  financial problems at the hospital.

Samoa News understands the governor’s assistant legal counsel Douglas Fiaui had made contact with the Fono’s legal team late Friday morning to find out the status of any of the administration bills for the hospital, and was told that none had been approved.

On his radio program, Togiola said he tried to make contract with the Fono leaders but lawmakers were already gone for the day, and this prompted him to quickly move to call a special session of the Fono through a communique to its leaders. He pointed out that calling a special session is in accordance with local statute.

Three main bills on the special session agenda deal with the hospital: $10 million for the off island medical referral program; $8 million loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund (which was rejected by the Senate last week) and the proposal to dissolve LBJ and return it to the Department of Health (which was never brought to the Senate floor). See Saturday’s edition (3/10) for more details on the governor’s letter to the Fono.

Togiola, on his radio program, urged lawmakers to look at the these important proposals, saying they will provide both short and long term solutions for the hospital.

The governor says he is aware that this is difficult for lawmakers to return for a special session, but this is very important for the hospital in need of financial support.

He also said that the hospital has already implemented a temporary reduction in working hours for a certain number of employees  and it’s very important that employees are returned back as soon as possible to their full working hours — once there is permanent financial help for LBJ.

Togiola says he is fully aware of the pain and difficulty an employee faces with a reduction in working hours, which means a reduction in take home pay, as this was the same situation faced by the Executive Branch employees early last year. (Togiola was among those affected by the reduction in work hours/pay).

He said his heart went out last year to the families affected by the reduction of hours especially low income families trying to make ends meet, but there was just no other option available to the Executive Branch.

Therefore, he said lawmakers need to return to work to reach final decisions on proposed measures to help the hospital and its employees.

During the 3rd regulation session, the Fono didn’t take a mid session recess unlike past years. Instead, lawmakers worked through their full 45 session days.

Meanwhile, the Senate Select Investigative Committee is scheduled to commence its investigative hearings at 9 a.m. today with LBJ the first target of the probe, which will look at finances and operations of the medical center. (See last Saturday’s edition for more details).

Asked if the SSIC will still carry out its hearings, now that the governor has called a special session, committee chairman Sen. Lualemaga Faoa told Samoa News over the weekend that he will wait until this morning to make a decision.