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Purchase of new DPS vehicles was against the law, say some senators

Senate President ProTem, Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua (left) lookong on, as Senate legal counsel Mitzie Jessop-Ta’ase reads for senators, local law which requires Fono approval of money in the law enforcement fund to finance purchases of new police vehicles. [photo: FS]
Sen. Nua suggests taking the matter to court

Some senators have voiced their displeasure over the Department of Public Safety using  revenues from the $10 collected by the court for traffic violations to purchase brand new police vehicles without following the law, under which the use of this fund is subject to Fono approval.

The issue was serious enough that the Senate session yesterday took a recess while senators debated the matter, with at least two senators calling for the matter to be taken to court.

During Wednesday’s DPS FY 2018 budget review, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i asked Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson how DPS financed the purchase of its brand new vehicles, as so many people were asking about it. 

While Magalei didn’t go into details about the purchase he was referring to, Le’i responded that it was funded with the $10 that is paid and collected for traffic violations. Magalei informed Le’i that the law, regarding the spending of the $10 law enforcement fee, requires Fono approval.

At yesterday’s Senate session, Magalei said his committee had looked into the purchase and found that it was the $10 from the law enforcement fee that was used, but under the law any purchase using this fund, requires approval of both the Senate and House.

Magalei said the latest information is that DPS is planning to purchase more vehicles - also using this Fund - while nothing is being sent to the Fono for approval first. He requested that the Senate look into this serious issue so that it’s not repeated in the future.

Senate President ProTem, Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua, who led yesterday’s session, acknowledged the existence of the law, which requires Fono approval for the purchase of new police cars using this fund, and using the proceeds to finance purchases of police vehicles without Fono approval is a violation of local statute.

He then called a recess to discuss the matter with Senate legal counsel, Mitzie Jessop-Ta’ase who was called in to read aloud the law and provide an explanation.

Nuanuaolefeagaiga reiterated that this is not a new law, and previous administrations had followed it; however, for the matter being currently questioned, Nuanuaolefeagaiga alleges that the law has been violated and other ASG entities are violating laws as well.

He said the matter can be taken to court, and this was supported by another senator.

Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., who retired from the police force several years ago, said the law is there, but DPS is not abiding by it. He alleges that Le’i, the Budget Office director, and the ASG Treasurer, used their authority to bypass the law in order to move forward with the purchase.

He suggested a directive from the Senate for the government to place a hold on any purchase of new police cars, unless it's approved by the Fono, if this Fund will be used.

Sen. Muagututi’a M. Tauoa suggested bringing to a Senate hearing the Police Commissioner to find out who gave him the authority to use the Fund without Fono approval. He said it was wrong to use money that was not appropriated by the Fono.

Sen. Tuiagamoa Tavai supported calling a hearing so that the Senate can get Le’i's side of the story.

This was also supported by Magalei, who said the Senate can learn through a hearing where the problem stems from. He suggested that the Procurement Office not process the proposed purchase of more new police cars, funded by this Fund, unless it's approved by the Fono.

Sen. Satele Galu Satele Sr., said if the Senate doesn't question this issue now, it will happen again in the future.

There was a consensus amongst senators that they are not against the purchase of new police cars, but to do so according to the law.

Throughout the entire discussion of the matter, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Fiu J. Saelua and the governor’s executive assistant, Iulogologo Joseph Pereira were in the Senate gallery awaiting the start of the FY 2018 budget hearings.

When the Senate session resumed, Fa’amausili - chairman of the Senate Public Safety/Homeland Security Committee called for a hearing next Monday on this matter and witnesses on the list are Le’i, ASG Treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a, and ASG Budget and Planning Office director, Catherine Aigamaua Saelua.