Senators follow the money — ASH-Cable and StarKist civil penalty
The more than $1 million that the American Samoa Government received as dividends plus corporate tax payments in connection with the American Samoa Hawaii Cable (ASH-Cable) LLC have been deposited in an ASG “reserve account” at the Territorial Bank of American Samoa (TBAS).
This according to ASG Treasurer Uelinitone Tonumaipe’a, who along with Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, were witnesses at yesterday’s Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing, which was continued from last Friday.
What the committee is looking for is specific details of how much money was actually received by the government from ASH-Cable, where ASG is a minority shareholder and Florida-based eLandia Technologies owns the majority shares. The committee also wanted to know the total tax payment by eLandia.
Committee chairman Sen. Magalei Logovi’i said senators want information and a firm explanation in order for them to respond to questions from their constituents, who are seeking answers as to where or how the money has been spent.
Talauega provided for the committee, a two-page resolution — the Unanimous Consent Agreement — approved by the members of ASH-Cable that outlines the non-cash and cash distribution of the undersea fiber cable company’s dividends, that was effective Nov. 14 of last year.
Total cash dividends total $1.65 million, with eLandia getting $1.10 million and ASG $550,000.
According to the agreement, eLandia will transfer a total of $1,024,749 to ASG to pay its liabilities for tax years 2015 and 2016 while the remaining $72,251 — of the $1.10 million — stays with eLandia.
Talauega informed senators that ASG’s dividends as well as eLandia’s money to pay corporate taxes was received last December.
Asked by the committee as to where this more than $1.5 million is at this point, Tonumaipe’a said he was directed by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to deposit this money in the ASG “reserve account” held at TBAS.
Responding to more questions from the committee, Tonumaipe’a said, “More than $2 million is in the reserve account” which can only be used if requested by the governor, in the event of a “cash crisis” when there is just no cash available for ASG operations.
However, he said that if such cases arise, this account must be reimbursed and that signatures on this account are himself and the governor.
Local law states that any new revenue received by the government after a fiscal year has already started, is subject to Fono appropriation and approval before it is spent. And this is made clear in all provisions of any fiscal year budget law.
Talauega informed senators that this new money will be submitted by the administration when the next budget review comes up and stressed that this money is subject to Fono approval before it is spent.
Also raised during the hearing is the whereabouts of the $2.6 million of American Samoa’s share of StarKist’s $6.5 million civil penalty for violation of federal environmental regulations in waters of the territory.
The ASG witness said the government has not received this money. (See Samoa News edition Jan. 4, 2018 for details.)
Sen. Fonoti Tafa’ifa Aufata had inquired about off-island bank accounts for the government and Tonumaipe’a explained that there are two — and both at Utah-based Zions Bank. T
he first one is the payroll account for direct deposit and the second one is the $3 million for the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program, which are federal funds and according to fed regulations, can only be deposited and held by a US financial institution.
The US Treasury Department’s SSBCI program is administered by ASG Commerce Department. The local program is called American Samoa Venture Fund.
For clarification purposes, Samoa News notes that Tonumaipe’a was only speaking about the ASG bank accounts under the Treasurer’s purview and it doesn’t include bank accounts for ASG semi-autonomous agencies, such as the ASG Employees Retirement Fund, which is governed by its board of trustees.