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Most ASG witnesses AWOL at latest $8M loan hearing

House lawmakers have voiced disappointment over the absence of main government witnesses to testify before a House committee regarding the Togiola Administration’s $8 million loan for the LBJ Medical Center. They have also requested an official letter of concern be sent to the governor’s office.

The loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund is to be repaid with a percentage of a hike in excise tax for alcohol, beer and tobacco; an increase in fees for business licenses and the new corporate tax.

At yesterday’s House committee hearing the Tax Office manager, Melvin Joseph, was the only ASG witness to show. Rep. Pulele’iite L. Tufele, who chaired the hearing, informed colleagues that the committee had received word that ASG Treasurer Magalei Logovi’i was off island as well as Retirement Fund board chairman Aleki Sene Sr. and Retirement Office executive director Filisouaiga Taafua.

The committee thanked Joseph for showing up at the hearing, which will be rescheduled for a later time and the Tax Office manager will be sent another communication. After Joseph was excused, Rep. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr. informed colleagues that there are just two more weeks left in the current legislative session to address this matter and he would prefer the governor not call a special session for this issue when the Fono goes into recess.

He said government witnesses are supposed to be available to testify on this measure to address LBJ’s financial needs because only a short-term measure is in place to cover the hospital’s money woes up to April. (He was referring to the $3 million loan from the Workmen’s Compensation Account).

Tapumanaia suggested the committee send an official letter of concern to the governor’s office about the lack of available ASG witnesses to testify on this bill which needs to be discussed by the Fono.

Pulele’iite said the committee did send an official letter to the administration for all of the witnesses to attend the hearing, but will find out later as to when the witnesses are back on island before another hearing is scheduled.

Rep. Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi said most of the work dealing with the funding source for the loan has been done following several previous hearings carried out by the House. He said the most important issue left on this measure is the $8 million, for which the Fono needed to hear from Sene, Taafua and Magalei.

He also pointed out that there was a call by the governor for the Fono to work together with the administration on issues to help the hospital, but the most important witnesses are off-island.

Rep. Va’amua Henry Sesepasara said the Fono keeps hearing the governor on his radio program complaining about the delay in getting bills through the Fono, but here the House is working on addressing an important administration request — but no witnesses.

He supported the call for an official communication from the committee to the governor’s office voicing lawmaker’s concern over the lack of witnesses in attendance. “Let’s go on record with a letter,” he said.

Another committee member reminded his colleagues that the governor’s letter to the Fono about the proposed $8 million loan clearly stated that the governor’s staff would be available to answer questions regarding the measure.

Two other committee members suggested that the House find out first if the communication to the administration on the hearing was actually delivered and for the committee not to rush into making any decisions.

Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai requested for that the Retirement Fund provide an actuarial study on the impact to the fund with this proposal, as such a study is required by law, and to find out the status of all ASG loans from the retirement fund, including the most recent $20 million loan which was done in 2007. He also suggested getting an official opinion of the board regarding this measure.

Rep. Larry Sanitoa suggested requesting the fiscal year 2011 audit report for the retirement fund as it should how much of the retirement fund’s assets are being loaned, and the audit report would provide information about the status of the fund.

In his cover letter to the Fono, proposing the $8 Mil loan, Togiola said in a recent meeting with the ASGERF board and staff, he was informed that ASG has paid down its obligations by approximately $8 million and the amount of the loan in this proposal is limited to $8 million.