Budget director scoffs at proposed salary adjustments totaling $57K
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Proposed salary adjustments for two Fono workers — who are temporary employees — was not well received by ASG Office of Program Planning and Budget director, Catherine D. Saelua, who said Executive Branch spending is predicted on actual revenue collections, not “paper money”.
Legislative Financial Officer Talalemotu Mauga, who has reiterated that the Legislature is a separate branch of government and controls its own financial affairs, sent a Mar. 13th communication to Saelua regarding “Fono Employees Salary Adjustments”.
While Samoa News wasn’t able to obtain a copy of the Mar. 13th letter, Saelua’s three-page Mar. 28th response provides several details. “I feel compelled to express my great disappointment in the tone of your letter and its lack of compassion for the financial quandary the ASG currently finds itself in,” she wrote to Mauga.
“We both understand fully, having held this position, the enormous responsibility placed on it by statute to practice budget prudence and be wise stewards to the American Samoa Government’s limited locally generated financial resources,” she explained.
“What is equally important is that we all — Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary branches of government — operate from one pot of money, the General Fund,” Saelua pointed out. “The basic fact remains that the budget is of no consequence if there is no cash to defray the incurred expenses.”
She informed Mauga that control of Executive Branch “spending continues to be predicted on actual revenue collections” and it’s therefore, “only equitable that all branches of our government should subscribe to the same controls.”
She explained that since adopting the budget policy of tying spending to actual resources, ASG has closed its books in the black since 2013, with the exception of 2014.
“It would be detrimental now to adopt the mantra that the budget is a license to spend irrespective of whether revenues are there to cover incurred expenditures,” she continued.
As for the proposed salary adjustments for Fono employees, Saelua said, it “is difficult for me, as Budget Director to reconcile and accept, when the completed salary reclassification initiative” from the Education Department involving principals, vice principals, assistant directors and teachers “was placed on hold for the last two years due to the instability in actual revenue collection.”
ASDOE also has funding in its budget to implement this critical and necessary reclassification package, with the basic aim to improve student-learning outcomes, she said.
“Where is the equity attached to the scenario, relative to the benefits to be derived from the two salary adjustment proposals?” she asked. “It is grossly irresponsible to advocate spending purely because there is so called 'paper money' available in the budget, without considering the social benefits that will accrue to the people of American Samoa,” she said.
According to Mauga, “the Legislature expenditures are to normalize for the next nine months except for travel costs”. Saelua calls it, “erroneous”.
She questioned how Mauga arrived at “normalize expenses when you exclude from the budget, the object class which is constantly being overrun yearly and which materially affects the total budget negatively."
According to the Budget Office director, “our leaders had come to an agreement to route the Fono expenses” to the ASG Budget Office for review, as it provides a more solidified financial accountability mechanism, fiscal responsibility, and ensures that certain actions and/or transactions that are submitted have the proper justification documents which are in line with the current approved budget before an approval is given for it to be processed.
“It is my sincere hope that we continue to work together in our mandated capacities, with the collective aim to maximize the interest of the government to continue to improve the quality of lives of our people,” Saelua wrote.
She said the Executive Branch “is compelled to make sacrifices annually, as it is most beneficial and highly favorable for the American Samoa Government and the public that we remain fiscally vigilant and continue to operate ‘only within our means',” she wrote.
Copies of the letter were sent to Fono leaders as well as the Governor and Lt. Governor.
In his Apr. 15th reply, Mauga explained that the proposed salary adjustment “is a one-time shot, because these people are temporary employees and they serve at the pleasure” of the Senate President and House Speaker.
“They are not entitled to any salary increment or increase of any kind,” Mauga said, adding that the Senate President and House Speaker “decided to reward them with something this year.”
He went on to explain that the Fono’s projected balance for year-end 2019 is $80,699 in personnel services, which is more than enough to cover the proposed salary adjustments of $57,000+ and will have left over funds that can be reverted back to the general fund for re-appropriation.
Samoa News will report later this week on the rest of Mauga’s response on specific issues raised by Saelua, as well as other details. Copies of Mauga’s letter were sent to Fono leaders as well as the Governor and Lt. Governor.