ASG directors can't appear in the Fono at this time, says Lolo
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Some lawmakers don't support the decision by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to allow deputy directors to appear during House hearings to answer questions from faipule, as directors who are being requested to appear are the ones with key roles in the government’s partnership with FEMA.
During the House session yesterday, Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr. informed faipule that he has received a letter from the Governor asking the Fono to exempt all directors from appearing for committee hearings, due to their busy schedule with FEMA.
Fetu told his colleagues that he has no problem with deputy directors appearing in lieu of directors.
“We have to take into consideration the pleas from the Executive Branch that all of the cabinet members have a busy schedule, helping our people with the FEMA assessments and other events that benefit our people. I don’t see any problem having deputy directors appear because they are the ones working together with the directors in making decisions for their departments,” Fetu said.
Rep. Gafatasi Afalava and Rep. Vui Florence Saulo did not agree.
Afalava said, “If that’s the governor’s decision, I believe the directors should come to the hearing while the deputy directors work with FEMA in the assessments.”
He added that if there is a letter from the governor, each faipule should have a copy of it.
Vui seconded Afalava’s objection, saying she has been working with the Government’s Assessment Team since the first day after Gita until this week, and she has noticed that not all directors are part of the group.
She said the only director who is involved in most of the assessments is Faleosina Voigt, the director of Public Works. Vui said she wants to see directors during committee hearings.
HOUSE JUDICIARY & LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARING
A hearing before the House Judiciary & Legal Affairs Committee scheduled for yesterday at 11:00 a.m. following the House session was cancelled after subpoenaed witnesses failed to show up.
Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Public Defender Douglas Fiaui were subpoenaed to testify on various issues regarding drugs, and allegations of mistreatment at the TCF.
Before the hearing was officially cancelled, committee chairman, Rep. Toeaina Faufano asked for a copy of the governor’s letter regarding the unavailability of directors to appear before house committees.
He said the main reason why he called the hearing is to discuss allegations by an inmate to a judge that he was badly beaten by prison guards.
Toeaina said he wants the Fono to step up and do something to stop this kind of behavior by people in power.
“I want those inmates to know that we heard their complaints and frustrations and we’re not sleeping like idiots, but we’re trying our best to dig down to the bottom of what happened so they know their rights are protected under the law,” he said.
After copies of the letter were finally handed to each faipule, Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu’e Allen acknowledged the governor for his understanding and respect of the Fono. He said the governor would never make a decision on his own unless it’s something they all agreed to with Fono leaders.
He pointed out that lawmakers would easily understand the content of the governor’s letter if the Secretary of the House did his job by making copies and delivering it to each faipule.
LETTER FROM THE GOVERNOR
In his Mar. 15, 2018 letter to Fono leaders, Lolo wrote, “As a former member of the Legislature I am well aware of the need for the three branches of our government to collaborate on matters of mutual concern to all of us. There is also the standing and latent respect expected and accorded to each branch. It is for this reason that has prompted this letter lest you deemed the Executive Branch to be disrespectful to the requests of the Fono.”
Lolo requested the Fono’s patience and leniency with respect to compliance to their requests for directors to appear for hearings. Lolo said early this week, he extended the emergency state for our territory, given the multitude of unresolved and unmet disaster activities.
“Accordingly, we are still operating under the emergency mode, which compels the directors as well as myself to collaborate with FEMA to fashion strategies and operating policies to guide the implantation of our recovery process. This commitment by the Cabinet and Executive Leadership is articulated in the MOU that we entered into with FEMA officials at the onset of our recovery process.”
The governor told Fono leaders that FEMA requires the participation of agency leaders who have the authority to make decisions, and directors are the decision makers, not their subordinates.
“FEMA has its own timeline to meet, thus it requires instant access and direct collaboration with the directors. I have instructed the directors, pursuant to my assurances to FEMA to make disaster recovery their top priority as the lives of our people are involved and quick solutions are expected.”
According to the governor’s letter, the directors being requested to attend these hearings are the very ones who are the key players in the government’s partnership with FEMA. It would not bode well with regard to their commitment if decisions and activities are suspended until the directors’ return from a hearing; since an Executive Decree has been issue impelling all directors to continually be available to FEMA.
The governor then asked for their support to allow the Deputy Directors to instead appear before Committees. He said their most pressing responsibility and duty is to quickly restore normalcy to the lives of people who were victimized by Tropical Storm Gita. He is certain this is also the Fono's major concern and desire.