Speaker says statements in Fono should be factual, not rumors
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Several issues were raised by faipule during the first day of Fono business, following a four-week mid session recess, taken to preserve session days for the most pressing tasks.
During announcements, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale advised members of the House to bring to the floor only essential issues that will help in the development of the people, but not issues based on rumors and no solid proof.
“Our role as representatives from each district is to protect the dignity of the Fono and bring into this chamber only essential issues that have a positive impact for our people, not issues that have no solid foundation and based on rumors with no facts,” Savali said.
The Speaker was referring to issues raised by one of the Manu’a #1 District faipule, Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr.
Vesi said it's been 3 months since taxpayers have filed their taxes and still, nobody has received any refund checks from the government. He said some taxpayers are frustrated and want to know why it’s taking so long to get their refunds.
Vesi told House members that this is not a good sign of a government that is moving forward financially. He said he doesn’t want the government to use the federal government shutdown as an excuse in the delay of issuing refunds to taxpayers.
According to Vesi, this has been an ongoing practice for years, and something needs to be done to fix it so it doesn't keep happening.
Another issue raised by Vesi has to do with the huge amount of money he says the government spends on employees hired under short and long term contracts, including work carried out by private construction companies around the island.
He said the House needs to look into this issue, because this is one of the ways local funds are being misused by government, as these construction projects were not approved under the government’s budget, which was passed by the Fono last year.
Vesi did not identify a construction company or project by name, but said he wants to find out the truth, about who is behind approving these jobs.
Savali did not mince words when he responded to Vesi’s statement on the issue.
He told Vesi that all of the government developments, plans, and decision-making —including people hired under long and short terms contacts — were done according to the government’s plan (or the government budget), which was approved by the Fono.
“No person is hired under a contract unless it was approved by the budget, even construction work, these were all done according to the budget. Nothing was done without the approval of the Governor,” Savali told Vesi. “Your statement this morning does not sit well with me as a leader of the Fono, because it appears that the Fono is still allowing these things to happen."
Savali said if a faipule wants to raise any issues in the chamber, he/ she has to make sure the information he/ she is sharing, is accurate and there are facts to support it.
He reminded faipule that all construction projects were awarded to companies who won the bids, and nothing was done under the table.
“Don’t bring issues that have no solid foundation or issues that are founded on rumors. If you want to address any issue inside this chamber, provide your facts to support your subject. Do your research first before you address any issues. This is the Fono and our duty as representatives is to protect the dignity of the Fono,” Savali said.
He said he understands the Fono has a responsibility to investigate any issues that don't look right, and to schedule hearings if they need questions answered.
However, if a hearing is called based on issues that have no factual basis to support it or no foundation at all, then people will question their role and ability to carry out the job.
Rep. Gafatasi Afalava, at the insistence of his constituents from Aoloau, asked why the recording of church service programs is no longer being conducted in the villages but instead, at the KVZK-TV studio in Utulei. Afalava raised the same issue last year, and a hearing was conducted by the House Government Operations committee, chaired by Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu’e Allen.
Afalava said he was raising the issue again, because his constituents believe the church services should be recorded in the villages, instead of at the studio.
He then requested another hearing so the KVZK-TV director can be present to explain the issue.
Faimealelei agreed and scheduled a hearing for Friday at 8am.
Other issues that were raised had to do with the LBJ Pediatric Ward still operating without an air-conditioner for 3 weeks, and EMS services. Rep. Vailoata Eteuati Amituana’i said the public wants to know why EMS is using a van — instead of the ambulance units — to transport patients from their homes to the hospital.