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Budget director reports all ASG entities stayed within budget, except the Fono

SG’s Budget Office director, Catherine D. Saelua. [SN file photo]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA —  Despite the impending uncertainties of reaching a consensus, ASG’s Budget Office and its director Catherine D. Saelua have presented a positive picture of local spending for the first three months of FY 2018 (Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2017).

“Thankfully, Congress has averted another shutdown and approved the budget to fund the government. The Tax Cut to stimulate the economy and boost job growth was also recently signed by the President. Overall, the economy has been growing and the federal unemployment rate has fallen to about 4.9%, the lowest in years”, Saelua said in her cover letter to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga that accompanied the ASG first quarter performance report.

Although grateful for the tax exempt status of our local cannery, Saelua told Lolo she hopes the federal tax cut to stimulate the economy will be amended and modified in a meaningful way, so the territories would be included, thereby improving our local economy and driving up job growth.

“Despite the struggles, I am pleased to say we have stayed the course and successfully ended the 1st quarter of fiscal year 2018 with a renewed sense of optimism. With the exception of the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, Judicial Branch, and Special Programs have all operated with their 1st quarter approved budget”, Saelua continued.

Of the total approved budget, total expenditures at the end of the first quarter came to $19.05 million - $13.53 million (or 23%) for the Executive Branch; $495,584 (or 17%) for the Judiciary; $1.82 million (or 26%) total in Fono expenditures; and $2.20 million (or 9%) for Special Programs, according to data included in Saelua’s cover letter.

“Overall, Year to Date expenditures incurred in the 1st quarter are only 20% of the approved annual budget of $96.3 million, thus reflecting a 5% savings of the normal quarterly budget threshold of 25%”.

Given the government’s current spending rate of $19.1 million in the first quarter, the year end estimate of total expenditures incurred is projected to be approximately $91.6 million, similar to the previous year (excluding the impact of Gita).

In the event, should FEMA approve the current assessment for financial assistance due to the impact of Cyclone Gita, that will inject capital into our local economy and would likely heighten the government revenue collection pool, according to Saelua.

She said internal budget controls are currently in place, and she’s confident the government will contain its spending if necessary, to be in compliance with the Anti-Deficiency Act and achieve a balanced budget at year end.

She said given that current revenue collections are usually slow in the 1st quarter, the Revenue department has worked diligently, thus providing reassurances that there is sufficient cash flow in our revenue pool to meet the government's operating expenses.

Saelua noted that all ASG entities submitted their performance reports in a timely manner and they all operated within their approved budgets, except for the Fono.

The Budget Director said the report’s intention “is to help our leaders stay informed on the current operation of our government and to provide them with better understanding on specific programs being administered by each department and agency”.

Several faipule voiced their concerns about the decline in the number of business licenses during the 1st quarter of this fiscal year. Manu’a faipule, Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr. said the decrease in the number of new businesses will affect the economy in the near future.

The Department of Commerce first quarter performance report shows a decline in the number of business licenses for FY 2018, compared to before the cost of business permits went up.

In calendar year 2013, there were 3,416 businesses registered with the Revenue Branch of Treasury. As of Dec. 31 , 2017 there were only 2,911 licenses issued, representing a drop of 4.1%

For calendar year 2016, there were 3,037 business licenses issued, and continuing the decline in business registration for three consecutive years that started in 2015 in the amount of 14.78%

Despite spending within the approved budget, some departments have voiced their concerns with the Fono about not being able to purchase supplies and materials due to the lack of funding.

In its first quarter performance report, the Department of Education noted some of the challenges each school faced during the start of the current school year. These include limited textbook supplies, in-classroom materials and resources, major request on maintenance and service for laptops, desktops, smart boards, and iPads.

There’s also a limited supply of school furniture, poor internet and WIFI connections in mostly all public schools, and a shortage of teachers, custodians and administrative assistants.

DOE stated in its report that they’re requesting for 22 applicants for teacher positions; 5 bus drivers and 8 Family Workers/Family Advocates (for Emergency Hire) with funding available.

Samoa News should point out that the House of Representatives last week discussed the issue of the governor not releasing the Fono’s travel budget, which led to Vice Speaker, Rep. Fetui Fetu Jr. telling members of the House that the Governor and his Executive Branch do not have the authority to hold the Fono’s budget. He said their only responsibility is to keep it, control it, and release it to the Fono when Senators and faipule need it.