Confirmation process for Lolo Admin’s cabinet appointees done

Final three confirmed: Youth and Women’s Affairs, Procurement Office, OPAD
fili@samoanews.com

The Fono has completed the confirmation process for the Lolo Administration’s cabinet appointees, who are now all officially confirmed in both the Senate and House as lawmakers are now on a three-week recess and reconvene on Mar. 15.

The latest endorsement came last Wednesday in the Senate with a 17-1 vote to confirm Dr. Peter Tinitali as director of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for the Disabled (OPAD) and the final two cabinet nominees, confirmed in unanimous votes of 14-0 for Dr. Oreta Mapu Crichton as chief procurement officer, who also heads the Office of Procurement and Jonathan David Fanene as Youth and Women’s Affairs Department director. All three were already confirmed by the House.

CHIEF PROCUREMENT OFFICER

Among the issues raised by senators, with Crichton, on Friday was the bidding process when it comes to the purchase of ASG vehicles, such as when a department seeks to purchase a vehicle.

Crichton explained that the agency presents a proposal and the specifics for such a purchase.  The Procurement Office then seeks at least three separate proposals from vendors, she said, adding that this is the same procedure when a director seeks to purchase his/ her ASG car.

As for the brand new vehicle used by the previous CPO (who stepped down in 2015), Crichton said that car is now with the Governor’s Office for VIPs, and since her tenure in 2015, she has the same ASG vehicle up to today.

Asked by the committee if the Procurement Office still reaches out to the US General Administration Services for ASG needs, Crichton said no and revealed that ASG has outstanding debts with GSA — but she didn’t elaborate on the amount.

Responding to a question about ASG vehicles at local repair shops, Crichton said there are policies for all agencies to follow including that a contract is signed first with the repair shop for repairs but is has been very difficult to get some agencies to comply with the policy.

She was also informed about complaints from local contractors that they are not awarded a contract, despite submitting the lowest bid.

Crichton explained that even if the bid is the lowest, they may be considered “non responsive” if their bid package is not complete — not providing all that is required for the bidding process.

Sen. Levu Tulafono Solaita pointed out that he has received information that bids by local companies are usually lower than the estimate by ASG engineers for the cost of a project, but the local contractor is still awarded the contract. However, the local contract ends up not having enough money to complete the project, resulting in change orders later on, he said.

Crichton explained that during her tenure, Procurement Office has followed the law and regulations keeping with the threshold estimate by ASG engineers. As to change orders, many times it’s ASG departments, who sought the changes in what’s needed to be done after the project is underway and the contractor would need [more] money as a result of the change order, she said.

DYWA DIRECTOR

Fanene delivered his opening and closing remarks in Samoan during his Senate confirmation hearing, which lasted about 15 minutes. He also responded to questions in Samoan.

He was commended by senators for returning home to serve the people of American Samoa instead of staying in the U.S. where he would be making more money.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie described Fanene as one of the “mentors” to American Samoa’s youth and urged the director-nominee to help and assist local youth with their future through all his talents.

Responding to a handful of questions, the 34-year-old Fanene explained some of the ongoing programs at DYWA that are provided not only for the youth but also for women.

Fanene, who turns 35 years old on Mar. 19 this year, became the youngest cabinet member of the Lolo Administration when he became DWYA director in January 2014 at the age of 31. Before joining ASG, he was a free agent in the NFL and played professional football for the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots — which this year won the Super Bowl.

OPAD DIRECTOR

Among the issues raised with Tinitali during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday are vehicles parked illegally at handicap parking spaces, with Sen. Fai’ivae A. Iuli saying that he believes the problem is the lack of enforcement to ensure that only those with parking-stickers issued by OPAD are parked in these reserved parking spaces.

Tinitali said OPAD is working with the Department of Public Safety to conduct training for OPAD staff, who will be authorized to issue citations to people parked illegal in handicapped marked parking. He said both sides are working on a date for training.

However, Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai says OPAD staff should concentrate on their work and leave issuing citations to police. Other senators also shared with Tinitali their concerns with people taking up parking space for the handicapped.

An administration bill, approved by the Fono and signed into law late last year by the governor, allows police officers to ticket drivers or the registered owners of vehicles unlawfully parked in disabled parking stalls. Additionally, the bill authorizes OPAD to issue tickets to violators as well as imposing new penalties on violators.

During Fono hearings on the measure, several lawmakers urged then Police Commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele to conduct training for OPAD staff to issue tickets, to ensure that it’s accepted by the court, as well as making sure that the law is followed correctly.

At the confirmation hearing, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i questioned the director-nominee on handicapped marked parking and access of people with disabilities to stores, restaurants and buildings.

Tinitali said their work of protection and advocacy for the disabled follows the federal American Disability Act to ensure that all public places — stores, restaurants, and public buildings — provide access to people with disabilities.

For example, there are two new buildings in the Tafuna area where OPAD worked with the owners to ensure that they comply with the federal law — not only for access of people with disabilities into the building but for an elevator to access the second floor.

Magalei asked about access for people with disabilities to churches, to which Tinitali said it’s not included in their jurisdiction as church buildings are considered private and not public places. He said it deals with the “separation of church and state” and they don’t have the authority for enforcement.

However, Magalei quickly objected, saying church structures are also used by members of the public. Tinitali responded that OPAD’s work follows the federal law, which considers a church a religious institution that is private.

Also asked of Tinitali if his office has jurisdiction of the Dial-A-Ride program, which is a federal funded program, administered locally by the Department of Public Works, whose director Faleosina  Voigt, told senators last week that the van is used to transport elders and people with special needs, including the disabled, to their appointments.

Tinitali explained that DPW is responsible for the van, but some senators believe the Dial-a-Ride van should be administered by OPAD, whose responsibility is to protect and advocate for the disabled.

Interestingly enough, there were several senators who actually questioned the responsibility role, as well as asking — “what does your office do” — during the nearly one-hour hearing.

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