Some ASG directors are a 'no-show' at budget hearings

Fono leaders intend to send notice to Gov. Lolo - again
fili@samoanews.com

The Fono leaders plan to - again - communicate to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, its long-standing practice that only cabinet directors, including presidents and CEOs of authorities, are to testify during budget hearings.

This followed last Thursday’s Fono Joint Budget Committee hearings, for which some directors didn’t show up because they were either out sick or off island.

This, of course, didn’t sit well with lawmakers, who wanted to hear directly from cabinet directors.

The High Court and eight government offices had their FY 2018 budgets reviewed last Thursday; however, four cabinet members weren’t able to attend and instead their deputies appeared on their behalf and gave an explanation:

• Deputy Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Malemo Tausaga said Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Mauga T. Asuega has been out ill for about two weeks and therefore was unable to attend.

• Assistant public defender Michael White said Public Defender Douglas Fiaui is off island. (No details were given as to why Fiaui is off island.)

• Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs deputy director Pa'u Roy Ausage said DYWA director, Jonathan Fanene is out sick.

• Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Magalei Logovi’i informed lawmakers of the advance notice from the Governor’s Office that Administrative Law Judge, Toetagata Albert Mailo, recently travelled off-island for medical reasons.

After the hearing ended and the last witnesses left, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie explained that communication to the Governor’s Office, along with the list of budget hearings, had again, stressed that only directors can testify or that agency’s budget may end up being continued for another time.

He said he and House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale will meet regarding this matter, and  a new letter will be sent to the Governor’s Office stressing again, that only directors can testify, because there are questions that neither a deputy director nor a senior official can answer.

The Fono leaders noted that delaying hearings for entities whose directors were not present, could further delay the budget review, because it's unclear when director - who are out sick - will return to work.

All cabinet directors for eight executive branch agencies were present for the review of their respective agencies’ budget at last Friday's scheduled hearing, except for Workmen’s Compensation Commissioner, Papali’i Violet Richmond who, according to a representative from her office, has been on leave for several months.

It was reconfirmed at the hearing that the Workmen’s Compensation office has had its own budget, separate from the Department of Human Resources for three years now, following an executive order from the governor.

The majority of the 17 executive branch entities that went through budget hearings last Thursday and Friday netted very little to no questions, with committee leaders and Fono leaders reminding lawmakers to focus their questions specifically on the basic budget, which needs to be approved by the Fono before the start of FY 2018 on Oct. 1, 2017.

PUBLIC DEFENDER’S OFFICE

There was discussion on allowing the use of the English language, because White is not Samoan. However, Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet said this will “contradict” the Senate rules already in place, that the Samoan language is the official language when it comes to the Senate’s work .

Fai’ivae noted an incident last Tuesday during a Senate hearing, where Deputy Treasurer of Revenue Keith Gebauer, who had experience on the issue discussed at the time, was not allowed to continue using the English language because of the Senate’s rule that only Samoan is used because it's the official language of conducting Senate business.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie agreed with Fai’ivae and explained that this was to ensure that senators fully understand the details of any measure discussed before making a final decision.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and co-chair of the joint Fono budget hearings, pointed out that White is not Samoan and doesn’t speak or understand Samoan.

This was echoed by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, who recommended continuing the hearing, using the English language. Gaoteote agreed.

In a Senate committee hearing two weeks ago, Gebauer testified using the English language, on two Administration bills, which the governor wants endorsed by the Fono.

At the hearing, Gaoteote interjected, saying that Samoan is the official language when it comes to the Senate’s work - both hearings and sessions. He said that if the government wants support from the Senate, a thorough explanation in Samoan is necessary to ensure that all senators fully understand. This was supported by other senators, who were a bit uneasy because at times, Gebauer was talking too fast and giving lengthy statements as a reply, instead of providing a direct response.

NEW YOUTH CENTER - DYWA

DYWA deputy director Pa'u Roy Ausage was asked by House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale about the possibility of setting up a youth center on the Western District, similar to the one in Pago Pago which houses the DWYA office.

Pa'u responded that the Western district facility will be located on government land next to the Office of Motor Vehicles in Tafuna, and a ground-breaking is set for next month.

Under the Special Programs budget category, which is overseen by the Governor’s Office, a total of $900,000 is allocated for the “Youth Multi-Purpose Center”.  According to the project description, the allocation will fund the first phase of the DYWA Youth Multi-Purpose Center in the Western District identical to the Pago Youth Center, to “house youth programs and further enhance the development of our youth” on the Western District.

ALJ OFFICE

It was revealed during the budget review for the Office of the Administrative Law Judge, that Toetagata’s current six-year term expires this month, and local attorney Marie Ala'ilima is the ALJ ProTemp.

Under local law, the ALJ is appointed by the governor for a six-year term and confirmed by the Fono.

DHR

House Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman, Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi, who is also the joint budget committee co-chair, sought details on the number of ASG employees affected by the reduction in working hours from 80 to 70 hours per pay period. He also wanted to know how much money the government has saved because of it.

Department of Human Resources director, Eseneiaso Liu said she didn’t have the specific details on hand but can provide a report.

Vailiuama said the committee wants this document.

 Liu said the reduction of working hours currently affects only those who make $30,000 or more, which is about 25% of the workforce.

Sen. Fonoti Tafa’ifa Aufata recommended that once the government’s finances are back on track, ASG should pay the hours of the workers affected by the reduction.

Responding to a question on the current ASG workforce, Liu said it's 4,276 and this does not include the authorities like LBJ Medical Center and ASPA. Of the total number, 3,311 of them are career service employees and the rest includes contract workers, the Fono’s workforce, and senior citizens under the Territorial Administration on Aging's employment program, which is federally funded.

Budget hearings resume today for seven ASG entities.

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