FONO CONFIRMS THREE NEW ASEDA BOARD MEMBERS
The Fono has officially confirmed the governor’s nomination of three new board members for the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, which Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said plays a vital role in the government’s attempt to expedite improvement of the local infrastructure system, and establish projects that grow the territory’s economy.
Two weeks ago, the Senate endorsed the nominations of Chief Procurement Officer, Dr. Oreta Mapu Crichton; Public Works director Faleosina Voigt; and Commerce Department deputy director Uili Leauanae.
Late last week, the House voted unanimously (12-0) for Crichton and Voigt, and (11-1) for Leauanae. With the confirmation process now completed, the trio can fully participate and vote on ASEDA board decisions.
The House vote followed a House Economic Development Committee hearing, during which there were no questions pertaining to the ASEDA bonds issued in 2015 - whereby ASG collected some $78 million in new money for fund various projects.
The committee plans to hold at a later time a hearing to get an update on the projects as well as the status of bonds repayment, and they also plan to find out if there are any unused bond revenues.
Some lawmakers did share with the nominees suggestions regarding concerns over funds from the bonds being allocated for certain projects, which are not fully operational.
For example, seed money for the government-owned Territorial Bank of American Samoa, which is to provide banking needs for local residents, but TBAS is still unable to provide full banking services at this point, especially since the bank is still waiting for a routing number from federal regulators.
Another example is the multi-million-dollar MV Manu’atele, to serve the Manu’a islands, but the vessel is still faced with several problems and therefore unable to sail at times. Additionally, bond money allocated for the purchase of the x-ray scanners to help increase revenue collection, but the problem now is that fees are added on to importers, hiking their costs, which are then passed on to consumers.
Concerns from lawmakers regarding the lack of golf carts as well as improvements to the greens at the Ili’ili Golf Course were raised during last Thursday’s Fono Joint Budget Committee hearing, where the Governor’s Office was among the ASG entities whose basic budget for fiscal year 2018 were being reviewed.
Some of the entities that come under the purview of the Governor’s Office is the Sports Complex, which oversees public facilities like the Veterans Memorial Stadium and the golf course. Toleafoa Henry Tavake is the executive director of the Sports Complex.
During the budget hearing, Sen. Alo Fa’auuga noted the lack of sufficient golf carts and problems with course greens, which need improvements.
These are two issues that have been raised by lawmakers in both the Senate and House since early this year, as some of them are golfers and have noticed what they describe as “problems” not being addressed.
The governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira informed the committee that improvements to the golf course, including the purchase of carts, all depend on revenues collected, but that doesn't prevent the government from making improvements.
Iulogologo said the Sports Complex is proposing to purchase 15 carts under the FY 2018 Supplemental Budget (which is has yet to be introduced in the Fono).
According to the Basic Budget, the Sports Complex is projecting to collect $298,000 in revenues from fees and charges it imposes on facilities it oversees. The revenue is allocated to cover only personnel costs for 20 employees.
Under the Special Programs budget category, a total of $300,000 is from the annual ASG subsidy for the Sports Complex, with $449,000 to cover salaries of four employees, and the rest for other expenses.
In justifying the subsidy, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga explained that there are more sporting and social activities being accommodated at the stadium while the golf course is being developed to a level that will entice the hosting of international golfing events and hopefully resurrect the Amateur-Professional Golf Tournaments staged in the past, thereby “improving our tourism potentials”.
The annual subsidy ensures that the facilities - stadium and golf course - are maintained properly on a consistent basis to expand their useful life, said Lolo.
Also under Special Programs, is a separate $200,000 allocation for “Veterans stadium improvement” which, according to the governor, are funds to support activities dedicated to improving the stadium’s condition.
Such improvement, he said, could be done through purchases of necessary equipment for ground up-keeping, and repair and maintenance for both the stadium and golf course, as well as other operational costs.
SENATE CONFIRMS IMMIGRATION BOARD MEMBER
In a 12-0 vote last Thursday, the Senate confirmed the governor’s nomination of Rep. Gafatasi Afalava to the ASG Immigration Board. A full Fono confirmation now rests with the House whose members are expected to cast their votes later this month. Samoa News notes that the Senate is also represented on the Board.
During a very brief Senate Judicial/Immigration confirmation hearing last Thursday, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i asked the nominee how many foreigners he is sponsoring.
Gafatasi replied, "none".
Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai suggested to Gafatasi for the board to revisit and comply with local immigration laws, when making their decisions. For example, he pointed to a special provision of immigration law, which allows sponsoring of a foreigner for “special skills” not found locally.
He said there are many Asians taking over local jobs, which are not “special skills”, such as engineers.
Paepae added that he recently visited the Territorial Correctional Facility and found a high number of foreigners incarcerated there, with the government spending a lot of money to care for them.
The House Education Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday morning with DOE director, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga for an updated status report of public schools for the new school year (2017-2018), which began last week Tuesday.
Among the subjects to be covered in the hearing, according to committee chairman Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli S. Moliga, are the number of classroom teachers, number of school buses, and the status of the federally funded school lunch program.
Another issue lawmakers want to learn more about, is allegations regarding a Leone High School teacher who had sexual contact with two male students.
This past July, the Senate committee addressed the same issue and were informed by ASDOE officials that the case was turned over to police, the teacher had left the territory, and Matagi-Tofiga, who was off island at the time, had more information on the matter.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai called on the Senate Education Committee for a follow-up hearing with Matagi-Tofiga on the matter.
Meanwhile, Samoa News has received word from several people who claim that the teacher in question has returned to the territory, but it's unclear if the teacher is back at classroom teaching.
(See Samoa News July 20th edition for more details.)