Gov calls for austerity and will not travel to D.C. for 2018 IGIA meeting
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With American Samoa under a State of Emergency due to the devastation left behind by Tropical Storm Gita on Feb. 9 as well as to save on financial resources, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga will not attend the annual meeting of the federal Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) in Washington D.C.
The 2018 IGIA senior plenary session is set for the afternoon of next Monday, Feb. 26, according to the agenda of the meeting, which shows that governors and US Congressional delegates from the insular areas will make their individual presentations. Lolo along with Congresswoman Aumua Amata are on the list to give presentations.
The governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said Lolo is not attending the meeting, but will be sending an official statement. “The Governor has decided not to attend the meeting to save money. And the disaster cemented the Governor’s decision to remain on island,” Iulogologo said Monday this week responding to Samoa News inquires.
The government is faced with financial challenges at the start of current fiscal year 2018, with first quarter — Oct. 30-Dec. 31, 2017 — analysis by the Governor’s staff showing that ASG revenue collection was $2 million less than the quarterly forecast, while the government underspent its first quarter budget allocation by $5 million.
At last month’s cabinet meeting, the governor continued to urge directors to contain spending and curtail purchases as well as off island travel.
Gita’s devastation to infrastructure could not come at the worse time when ASG is facing its own financial woes. Political observers noted that the government — including semi autonomous agencies — will have to plan ahead for local funds to supplement federal funding spent on infrastructure improvements.
As in past disasters where the federal government provided financial help, American Samoa pays 25% while the US pays 75% of the total cost, according to ASG officials, who noted that also in past disasters, there were projects in which American Samoa sought and received a waiver, paying only 10% — which is still a lot of money for the local government to fork out.
Additionally, there were also past disaster projects where the feds provided 100% funding.
Political observers noted that ASG also has other obligations to deal with in the midst of the disaster, especially bond payments, which are paid out twice a year. At this point, the estimated cost of damages as a result of Gita is not yet known.
As Samoa News reported yesterday, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working with its local partners conducting preliminary disaster assessment (PDA), which is then handed over to American Samoa to help with formulating a second request to the federal government for a “major declaration that would trigger the [federal] programs” that would help the territory rebuild its infrastructure and provide assistance to homeowners, renters and business owners.”
Samoa News understands that some lawmakers will be seeking information on how much ASG will have to pay out for disaster recovery, when the Fono reconvenes Mar. 12.
According to the IGIA agenda, US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke; Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs, Douglas W. Domenech; and Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Justin R. Clark will give opening remarks.
There will also be presentations by two other federal officials:
• Daniel Kowalski, Counselor to the US Secretary of the Treasury, will provide an overview of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
• Dee Robinson Rutkowski - U.S. Territories Program Manager at the US Treasury Department Office of the U.S. Competent Authority will present on programs and technical support provided to the territories as well as challenges facing the territorial tax offices.