House approves FY 2018 budget, with no review of Fono budget
Although the Legislature’s fiscal year 2018 budget has not gone through the Fono Joint Budget Committee review, the House has moved forward with the passage of the governments’ final 2018 financial plan of $395.2 million - a 4% hike from the approved FY 2017 budget.
The House version of the FY 2018 budget went through second reading on Monday, where it was approved.
The third and final reading was yesterday, and it was passed with a unanimous 19-0 vote. Some of the lawmakers who were off island were back to work yesterday, just in time for the final vote.
Before the final vote, House Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi moved to pass the bill, saying the Legislature, through its joint budget committee, has completed its review of the government’s FY 2018 budget. Additionally, the joint committee had thoroughly reviewed the budget submission during the budget review and everything is clear when it comes to the financial plan for 2018.
Vailiuama made no mention that the joint budget committee didn’t review the $6.91 million budget for the Fono, which has a workforce of around 220 and includes lawmakers.
During the announcement portion of yesterday’s session, some faipule started to raise questions regarding the FY 2018 budget, but House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale interjected, saying the House has made its final decision on the budget.
He reminded lawmakers that he has recommended from the beginning for faipule to attend budget hearings, so everyone has a full understanding on the spending of revenues in the new fiscal year, as well as services provided by each ASG entity.
Based on usual protocol, the House chief clerk sends a communication to the Senate regarding the passage of the budget bill, without any changes. Such communication usually arrives the next day, before the start of the Senate session.
At around 1p.m. yesterday some senators had already heard the news from various forms of communication, that the House had passed their version of the budget bill and the Senate should receive the official communication today from the House.
According to the joint budget committee schedule, the Fono’s budget was to have been reviewed last Friday, which was also the last day of budget hearings. However, it was postponed to yesterday by the Senate, until Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie returned Monday from an off island trip.
However, the House was not aware of the change made by the Senate side.
When faipule, along with Savali, showed up last Friday morning for the joint hearing, they witnessed some senators leaving the Fono Guest Fale, where the Senate is currently housed and where the budget hearings are held.
Savali was not happy with the Senate's decision and requested that the joint hearing move ahead - but it didn’t.
During Monday’s Senate session, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said he was surprised to receive a message from the House that Savali wanted to sign off on the FY 2018 to move forward with the issue.
Magalei said he told the person who brought the message to inform the House Speaker that he (Magalei) will not sign off to show approval of the budget bill.
See today’s front page Samoan story and yesterday’s Lali for details.