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Sen. Fonoti's solution to ASG's financial woes: pay cuts for directors

Rendering of the proposed new Fono Building. [SN file photo]

If she was governor and the government was faced with a financial shortfall requiring action to be taken, Sen. Fonoti Tafa’ifa Aufata said pay cuts for cabinet directors would be her priority.

The Tualauta female senator made the comment during a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday, where ASG Revenue Task Force members, including four cabinet directors, were called to testify on an Administration bill which sets up a 1% alternative minimum business tax (AMBT).

Fonoti’s comment echoes something that has been suggested by many ASG workers, those in the private sector, and even Samoa News readers - both Samoan and non Samoans - residing off island.

The governor implemented in mid-April this year the reduction in working hours from 80 to 70 hours per pay period, but there were certain employees who were exempted such as medical professionals and teachers. It was later that the governor added to the exemption list, employees whose salaries are funded with federal money.

Lolo also made clear at the time that he along with the lieutenant governor as well as executive branch directors were included in the reduction of hours. Since the later part June, the only employees still affected by the reduction of working hours are those making $30,000 or more and this includes directors - whose salaries are above the $50,000 mark.

At the Senate committee hearing Monday, Fonoti asked about the status of the 10-hour reduction every pay period for government employees, to which ASG Treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a explained that only employees making $30,000 or more are currently affected.

Fonoti said directors are the ones who always face the Fono, and for some, once they are fully confirmed as cabinet director, they quickly travel off island, along with a large per-diem while employees stay behind and do all the work.

Fonoti said that if she was governor, the priority would be to cut the salaries of directors instead of the entire workforce. She said she has shared this view with her family and asked the witnesses what they thought about her suggestion.

The witnesses -  which included Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, Commerce director Keniseli Lafaele, Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele, Budget and Planning Office director Catherine Aigamaua Saelua and the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira - sort of looked at each other, not sure who was going to answer Fonoti’s question.

Several seconds went by before Iulogologo responded by first referring to a popular Samoan saying, “e pule lava Sitafane i le la o lona va’a”. He pointed out that the final decision rests with the governor, and directors are included in the reduction in working hours.

When Iulogologo said he will relay Fonoti’s message to the governor, Fonoti quickly responded, "You should be the first one” to have your salary cut. The statement resulted in laughter from the witnesses and several senators.

Durning a cabinet meeting in June the governor said he and Lemanu continue to review the government’s financial situation and there's a possibility that the reduction will remain in effect until the end of the fourth quarter - which is Sept. 30th, also the end of the current 2017 fiscal year.