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TBAS Update: Manu'a faipule says ASG doesn't need a bank

Rendering of the proposed new Fono Building. [SN file photo]
Meanwhile, two other faipule engage in a heated exchange over grammar errors

Manu’a Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele did not mince words when he spoke during a House Commerce & Economic Development Committee hearing this week, to discuss the bill to amend the law that set up the Territorial Bank of American Samoa (TBAS).

Toeaina told committee members he wants to set up a hearing with the governor of Utah and the Deputy Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, to explain to the House of Representatives what exactly in the law they want to change.

Fono attorney, Nathaniel Savali was the only witness called to testify on the bill, during a hearing, chaired by Rep. Samuel Ioka A. Meleisea that lasted about 30 minutes.

Toeaina said this was something the governor of American Samoa and his representatives should have looked at, before passing legislation to set up the bank.

“We already passed this legislation, and now they want the Fono to review it and pass their amendment, saying it's a simple amendment? There's no such thing as a simple amendment when it comes to passing laws for our government,” Toeaina said.

He told the committee the bank is still operating without insurance, and people are curious as to what will happen to their money if something happens to TBAS. He said this type of bank is good for North Dakota because they have the resources and the government can support their bank, but for American Samoa, he believes our government doesn't need this type of bank.

Meleisea reminded the committee that their work is not hard, because there are only two words in the TBAS statute that need to be amended, paving the way for the Federal Reserve to issue a transiting routing number for the government-owned bank.

Reps. Vui Florance Saulo and Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr. supported the chairman’s statement, saying there are only two words the Administration is asking to amend in the statute.

Addressing the committee, counsel Savali explained that the amendments provided by the Administration are the only ones the Fono needs to review and pass. He said there’s a weakness in the law that set up TBAS and present wording in the law needs to be removed. The words are: ‘holding company’.

According to the Fono attorney, the use of the term holding company is inappropriate for TBAS because it is a government owned bank, whereas the definition of a holding company pertains to a private company.

The attorney elaborated that the territory’s political status, and designation as an unorganized and unincorporated territory makes it ineligible for banking services and programs that other states and territories enjoy. He also said the amendment is apparently a prerequisite for TBAS to get a routing number.

An exchange of words between Rep. Kitara Vaiau and Vesi silenced the committee, when Kitara tried to explain that the grammar in the bill is not correct, and the committee needs to change it.

Kitara read out loud the section of the bill he believed was incorrect. But Vesi interrupted, saying there’s no need for him to read aloud, all faipule understand how to read English.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about because your English is not good,” Kitara told Vesi in a loud voice. Vesi immediately fired back and told Kitara he’s being very disrespectful while the Speaker and House members are listening.

“Don’t try to educate me on what to do. I understand the bill and I read it over 10 times,” Vesi told Kitara.

That's the moment Toeaina stood up from his seat and left the chamber.

When he addressed the committee, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale said he is shocked to see how faipule are conducting their hearings.

“Now I am witnessing with my own eyes the way you conduct your hearings in the past, and this saddens me because you were selected by your district to be their voice,” Savali said.

Responding to Toeaina’s statements, Savali said he wanted the Manu'a faipule present when he offers a response.

"How can he say our territory doesn't need a bank? How can our people live without a bank? In a few more months, Bank of Hawaii services will come to an end."

Savali then turned to Kitara and Vesi and told them that when it comes to committee hearings or house sessions, faipule need to respect each other.

The Speaker said he doesn't want to public to hear — through the news — that every time the House conducts a hearing or discussion, it always ends up with a disagreement or argument amongst faipule.

Speaking about the amendment to the TBAS statute, Savali said changes to the bill are very simple and clear, and it'll make it easier for the Federal Reserve to issue TBAS a routing number.

The third reading of the house version of the bill is set for this morning, as it passed in second reading yesterday.