More grumbling over salary and perks for Visitors Bureau CEO

fili@samoanews.com

Attorney General Talauega Eleasao Ale has informed lawmakers that his role in signing contracts for ASG employees is to ensure all provisions of local laws are included in the documents and to make sure the government is protected from any liabilities.

Talauega’s statement was made last Thursday before the Fono Joint Budget Committee, which was seeking more information and clarification about the employment contract of American Samoa Visitors Bureau executive director David Vaeafe, whose current salary is $85,000 but the proposed FY 2017 budget has it at $87,500 including “contractual increments.”

Several lawmakers were concerned not only with the high salary, for an agency with only six employees, but also other benefits, such as his rental home being paid for in full by the government.

When questioned last week Wednesday by the joint budget committee Vaeafe says his current contract, which expires in two-years time, was prepared by the Attorney General’s Office.

So the following day on Thursday, when Talauega appeared for his department’s FY 2017 budget hearing, the committee first questioned him on Vaeafe’s “extreme” contract with not only the high salary but also other benefits.

Joint committee co-chair Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeafe informed Talauega that there are many ASG contract employees who don’t get these many types of benefits. He asked if Talauega is aware of Vaeafe’s contract.

Talauega explained that for all ASG contracts, including political appointees, there is a provision, which is signed by the attorney general, who ensures that the contract is in accordance with regulations and ensures protection of the government.

He says the attorney general does not have a say in salary and benefits received by the contract worker. In the case of Vaeafe’s contract, Talauega believed that it was something that was reviewed and approved by the Visitors Bureau board.

“When the contract is presented to the attorney general all issues including pay and benefits are already on the document,” he said and reiterated that his office’s role is only to ensure that all provisions, as required by all contracts, are included in the contract document, which is signed by the AG’s office ensuring that the contract conforms to the law.

And Talauega jokingly added, if the Fono believes that these types of benefits should also be received by the attorney general, “I thank you”. Several lawmakers laughed about the statement.

Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean asked if a law can be enacted in which all contract provisions — including pay and benefits for workers at ASG including semi autonomous agencies are subject to a review by the governor and the attorney general. Talauega said yes but that’s a decision for the Fono. 

Tuaolo added that contracts for LBJ hospital physicians show a share of $500 from the hospital for housing, but not the whole rental amount, like Vaeafe’s contract. And looking at the Visitors Bureau FY 2017 budget, Tuaolo said the deputy director’s salary is $63,000 while the deputy directors for the Education Department each get around $61,000 annually.

Visitors Bureau deputy director’s current salary, according to the budget document, is $61,5000 while the proposed salary for FY 2017 is $63,000 — which includes an “annual contract increment.”

During the hearing, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i asked if Vaeafe’s contract is legal if it was reviewed and approved by only one or two people on the board without a quorum.

Talauega responded that most boards set by law require a quorum to conduct business and without a quorum the decisions are not valid. However, he pointed out that he is not sure if this is the case with Vaeafe’s contract.

Responding to more questions from lawmakers, Talauega said that some states in the US have laws pertaining to employees’ salaries, which should not be more than the state’s leaders. However, he says there are exemptions, such as physicians, and such exemptions should be clearly stated in a proposed law.

He said that perhaps questions that arose with Vaeafe’s salary and benefits should be the starting point of a discussion for lawmakers because every year, this same issue of high salaries for those working in semi autonomous agencies keeps coming up.

BACKGROUND

During FY 2016 budget hearings last year, Vaeafe told lawmakers that his salary — including increments — medical benefits and housing allowance are all part of his employment contract approved by the board, according to Samoa News archive stories.

The Fono at the time tried to obtain minutes of the board meeting in which the contract was approved after getting information that only two board members were present when the decision was made.

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