Lolo encourages directors to tell the Fono about their money problems
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has encouraged cabinet members to use the budget hearing process to tell lawmakers about funding problems and other issues faced by their respective agencies, so the Fono can create new appropriations to fund the government.
“Tell the Fono your problems,” Lolo said during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, following a briefing from ASG Office of Program Planning and Budget director, Catherine D. Saelua, on the Fono’s ongoing fiscal year 2019 budget hearings which began Monday this week and will continue for two weeks.
Budget hearings are “going very smoothly,” she said, and offered a “word of advice — don’t invite information because it creates more questions” from lawmakers. She cited Tuesday's Department of Education budget hearing where many issues were shared with lawmakers.
Another “word of advice” from Saelua to cabinet members who have not yet testified on their budgets: “Ultimately, this is the governor’s budget. It's not my budget. It’s the governor’s submission proposal. We ask for your support of your own budget.”
In previous administrations, including the start of the Lolo Administration, the governors — including Lolo — have emphasized to cabinet members to refrain from requesting during budget hearings, additional money for their departments, because the proposed financial plan is based on projected revenues from the previous fiscal years.
And in past budget hearings, chairmen of joint budget hearings as well as Fono leaders would inform directors asking for more money, to take those requests to the governor, who submits the annual budget to the Fono. One of the concerns raised in past years, including last year, is that many ASG offices don’t have money for things like materials and supplies, as well as travel.
But Lolo appears to have changed his mind when it comes to directors telling the Fono during budget hearings that they need more money than what is being proposed, as the government is facing financial woes, keeping the FY 2019 budget ceiling threshold at FY 2018.
“Contrary to what the Budget director was saying, I think, especially Authorities, this would be the forum where you can present your issues to the Fono,” Lolo told his cabinet on Wednesday. “Be fair, be honest. There’s no sense of us keeping our problems” to ourselves.
Lolo told directors if they have needs in their agencies that need to be addressed, use this opportunity during budget hearings to tell the Fono “what you need, because we do need help from the Fono.”
“If you don’t have the funds to run your department, tell them you need funds, so they can at least introduce something,” he said, adding that the Authorities — the American Samoa Community College, LBJ Medical Center, American Samoa Power Authority and America Samoa TeleCommunications Authority — need financial help.
(During the cabinet meeting, Saelua reminded the Authorities to submit “your own budgets to the Fono” and requested at least 40 copies of the budget book for both the Senate and House. She encouraged the early submission of their budgets to allow time for lawmakers to review them prior to their respective hearings, set for next week. Lolo is also requiring the Authorities to provide a separate document highlighting their budgets).
“I understand where the Budget director is coming from, but your job is to address your problems to the Fono,” Lolo told cabinet members. “We need the Fono to create appropriations, so we can run this government.”
"If you have issues with [your] operations, let them know. We don’t have to hide anything from them. We believe in transparency, we believe in good government; so, by all means, let's work with the Fono.”
As a former faipule and Senate president, Lolo said he knows that many times during budget hearings, there are a lot of questions not related to the budget. “So be fair and be honest” when lawmakers ask questions, he said.
The governor added, “Hopefully by the next budget year, we will be able to submit a budget that will reflect the actual needs of this government.”
“We’ve been struggling all along to find a better way to present our budget, but we still have so many uncertainties as far as budget is concerned,” he said, noting that Treasury and the Budget Office are working on putting together the “final assessment of the revenues that has been generated this fiscal year and hopefully by next year, we’ll be able to do a lot more than what we are doing now.”
Lolo had told Fono leaders early this month that budget spending “has been transformed” in that, although the budget is approved, spending will be based on the actual collection of revenues.
Later during the cabinet meeting, Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Mauga T. Asuega shared that during his office’s budget hearing on Tuesday, he had told lawmakers of their financial needs and hopefully they will be addressed.
During his office's budget hearing, Mauga explained that additional village police and pulenu’u are needed for several villages on island, and this includes Tualauta county, the most populous county in the territory with many ethnic groups occupying the area, and where there is also a high number of privately owned land.
Mauga said if there are any available funds for FY 2019 that the Fono can come up with, please remember his office.