Joint budget hearings kick off next Monday
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Fono’s review of the government’s proposed budget of more than $439.58 million for FY 2019 begins next Monday, Aug. 20th, and it will be a joint hearing of both the Senate and House Budget and Appropriations Committees, held at the Senate’s current chambers — the fale Samoa next to the site where the new Fono building is being constructed.
Based on the Fono’s schedule, regular sessions for both the Senate and House start at 8a.m. followed by budget hearings an hour later. The hearings are set for only two weeks, ending Aug. 31st with the Legislature’s budget.
The usual overall testimonies from ASG Treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a and Budget and Planning Office director, Catherine D. Saelua on the proposed budget will kick off budget hearings. Among the issues to be covered are revenue projections and collections — and the Fono has already requested several financial reports.
Thereafter, Tonumaipea and Saelua will be questioned by the joint committee about the budgets for the Treasury Department and Budget Office. Also scheduled for Monday are the Governor’s Office and the Judiciary Branch.
As per Fono requirement, only the director of an agency or office, and the CEO or president of an authority can testify during budget hearings unless advance notice is given, like a vacancy in the directorship or CEO posts. In such cases, the deputy will testify.
BUDGETS FOR AUTHORITIES
At last week’s cabinet meeting, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga informed leaders of the Authorities that along with their FY 2019 budget proposals, they are also to prepare a separate document summarizing what’s in their budgets to be submitted to the Fono.
“Most of the time we lump together the budget in one big book,” he said, and suspects the “Fono will never read that thing [budget book].”
In his letter to the Fono which accompanied the ASG FY 2019 budget proposal, Lolo explained a revision in the budget format submission to the Legislature, saying the Authorities have been asked to submit details of their respective budgets, isolated from the budgets of the general government.
“This process will highlight the budgets of each authority instead of being buried in the main budget document,” Lolo explained, and noted that the Enterprise Fund, which totals $214.95 million proposed in FY 2019, reflects an increase of $34.70 million compared to FY 2018.
According to the governor, this is “mostly due” to increases of:
• approximately $10 million in American Samoa Power Authority electricity for the cost of fuel;
• $21 million in American Samoa Tele Communications Authority, mostly accounting for reporting of equipment depreciation, the Hawaiki cable and other various projects; and
• a little over $2.1 million in LBJ Medical Center.
“Overall, the upside bump reflects the proposed expanded activities within the enterprises and should have a positive impact for growth in our economy,” Lolo wrote.
The governor’s cover letter provides only a summary of each Enterprise Fund, which are the Authorities and the ASG offices that earn revenues for their operations.
Of note: LBJ’s total budget includes the ASG subsidy of $4 million, which is listed under the Special Program budget section, administered by the Governor’s Office.
Also, under Special Programs is a $100,000 allocation for LBJ staff development, technical training, and the Fiji Medical School program.
According to Lolo, LBJ is “currently facing financial challenges due to cash flows and federal compliance”, and these challenges have made it difficult for the hospital to provide the necessary professional training for staff of the newly opened Dialysis Unit.
The Dialysis Unit comes with new dialysis equipment and “other strict requirements” from the US Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Service (CMS), Lolo pointed out, adding that “staff training have been cited mandatory for staff to meet compliance and other professional standards”.
Therefore, he said these funds will help support these necessary trainings for Dialysis Unit staff. The funds will also provide assistance for local students accepted to the Fiji School of Medicine to accommodate expenses with tuition and other related fees.