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House and Senate conference today over Charter Bank bill

It will be the show-down between the Senate and House durning a conference committee today to iron out the final language of the Charter Bank bill, which lawmakers in both chambers want approved before the Fono goes into a 4-week recess beginning today.


The conference was called by the House yesterday after it rejected Senate amendments to the House version of the Charter Bank, which will be controlled and managed by a government holding entity, Territorial Bankcorp, with a seven member board.


Original version of the bill called for a seven member board that would include the lieutenant governor, ASG Treasurer, Commerce Department director, the bank’s chief executive officer and three members at large to be nominated by the governor and subject to Fono confirmation.


The House amended its version of the bill to say that the bank’s CEO would be an ex-officio member with no voting rights on decisions made by the board, which should have four members at large.


This week the Senate added its amendments by deleting the lieutenant governor, ASG Treasurer and the DOC director as board members. The measure now reads that the board shall have seven members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Fono.


When the amended bill was presented yesterday during the House session, several faipule disagreed with the changes and a brief discussion was called by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale.


During the discussion Rep. Pulelei’ite Tufele Li’amatua pointed out that it would be a long confirmation process for seven members as suggested by the Senate and that senators have their own reasons for the amendments.


However, this bank is needed right away, he said adding that the Fono can in the future make necessary changes they see fit.


And because this will be a government owned bank, it’s important that there is ASG representation on the board, especially with persons with a background on money matters, he said and reiterated that the law can be changed later - perhaps in two years time - once the bank venture is up and running.


Puleleiite’s comments were supported by Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr and Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen.


Fetui argued that appointing people on the board with no financial background will take a long time for them to get trained on the banking process, while Faimealelei said that it’s important that ASG assets are protected and therefore there is a need to have ASG representation on the board.


Reps. Vailoata Eteuati Amituana’i and Vui Florence Vaili Saulo supported the Senate’s amendments, which Vailoata says are important changes opening up the opportunity to the community at large - including those with financial experience - to be selected to the board.


Vui added that Senate changes do not stop the governor from appointing the lieutenant governor, the ASG Treasurer and the DOC director to sit on the board.  Senate President Gaoteote Tofau, who spearheaded the Senate amendments had made the same argument earlier this week.


When the House session resumed yesterday, a majority voted to reject the Senate amendments  and called for a conference committee, which will iron out any differences for the final approved language of the bill, that will be sent to the governor for his review and approval.


The Administration is keen on having the bill signed into law before the American Samoa Economic Development Authority board meets Mar. 2-6 in Honolulu with bond rating experts. Initial capital to kick-start the Chamber Bank, is a $10 million bond.


Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.