SAMOA NEWS EDITORIAL: FAI A OE SE’I KA LE LUA…
When is enough, enough?
The Lolo Administration’s insistence on transparency and accountability is a good thing, because it allows us, the community, to own our actions by acknowledging that we have problems due to what we do, or what we allow others to do, and we need to insist the problems be fixed.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the administration is 100% on board with their mantra — transparency and accountability — but maybe practice will make perfect.
Or maybe not… I’m still having a problem wrapping my mind around that $60,000 re-hire contract to Mrs. Eseneiaso Liu, after she retired; and I also can’t honestly say that it would have become public knowledge if KHJ Radio hadn’t caught wind of it and aired it on their news report — ‘double dipping’ is something the Lolo & Lemanu team came out against during their gubernatorial campaign.
And while the Human Resources director has since replied, and said it’s not double dipping if she doesn’t draw her retirement pay from ASG, I still can’t help thinking she was re-hired for $60,000 because her husband, Jack Liu, is Gov. Lolo’s first cousin and the couple was one of his major supporters out of Vaitogi.
Yes, I said it…
And I’m comfortable saying it because of this government’s mantra of transparency and accountability. What it has done is given us, the public, the platform to exercise our right to speak up about our leaders’ actions and to insist they act right by us and not betray our trust in them. To ask questions is not to ‘show unbecoming behavior’ — le mafaufau.
Which leads me to this thought:
Has the misuse of public funds that seems so prevalent in American Samoa, become such acceptable behavior to us that it’s become a “cultural norm”? Is that why we can’t get off the federal “high risk” designation? Is that why our leaders in the Fono, in our counties and villages, and in the executive branch have no problem using ‘our’ money for their own personal agenda?
A case in point is a story Samoa News published this week, “High Talking Chief Vailopa "Lopa" Seti banned from village of Vailoatai”. In the story, it was reported that the chiefs and orators of the village passed around a petition to formally ban Vailopa from using the Chiefly title “Vailopa” in the village and in Tualatai County, because according to the petition, Vailopa showed unbecoming behavior (le mafaufau) at a council meeting held on April 27, 2013, where he (Vailopa) threatened to take Satele to court for banning him.
Vailopa told Samoa News the incident stemmed from his asking Paramount Chief Satele Galu Satele for a financial statement to account for the $20,000 check, issued on May 31, 2012, used by the village from the Western District $1 Million allocation from the government’s $20 Mil loan it got from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund.
(The check paid for the expenses to attend Samoa’s 50-year Independence celebration, where SOFIAS [Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa] represented Vailoatai, led by Satele, according to Tagaloa Toloa Letuli, who was appointed by then Gov. Togiola Tulafono to coordinate the $3 million for the different districts.)
Two of the chiefs, who signed the petition, told Samoa News that when Vailopa asked for the financial report, the committee — which was made up of several chiefs in the village — explained the spending of the funds in Samoa.
One of them told Samoa News, “Satele did not have anything to do with the money, despite the check being issued in his name, however it was given to the committee who was in charge of paying for the accommodations and other means during their trip to Samoa.”
Umm… Satele did have something to do with the money — the check was written out to him, because with the support of the council chiefs, Satele and Vailopa went to Togiola, and asked for the money — not general fund money, as Satele told Samoa News — but specifically from the Western District $1 Mil allocation (according to Vailopa).
It’s no wonder Togiola when told by Samoa News what Satele had said, replied, “I am happy to take the blame, but the truth remains. I hope it helps him by blaming me. Have at it.”
And then there is the question of what a malaga has to do with infra structure projects?
For the $1 Million district allocations—under the law, that money was to be used for infra- structure projects. If it was not, then the public funds were misused and need to be paid back to the $20 Million loan account, which Governor Lolo has now said will be used for territorial emergencies.
If you take a look at our Western District ledger story, that’s close to $310,000 in non-infra structure expenses — a little over a third of the money, used on questionable expenses, such as malagas to Washington, DC, Samoa’s Flag Day and by Paramount Chief Satele Galu Satele and his family.
And no one has seen the Manu’a or Eastern Districts’ ledgers yet. Quite possibly each would have done the same as the Western District, which means roughly $300,000 each, for $900,000 to be paid back to the public coffers. I don’t know about you, but I would rather the money be spent on our decaying infra structure or given to LBJ for medicine.
For the Fono, the use of public funds without receipts, without source documents, including purchases of $10,000 or more without using Procurement bid rules, needs to be paid back into the public coffers. Based on our stories of their expenses, I would guesstimate about 10% of their more than $3 million in expenses — that’s another $300,000 — needs to be paid back — and I’m being conservative.
For example, it was recently brought to Samoa News’ attention that the $34,500 issued to ASCO Motors was not for vehicle repairs, or old debts — it was for the purchase of a brand new Tacoma pickup for Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Gaoteote. It replaces the relatively new Ford Expedition he was using, and has since passed on to his ‘runner’ for Senate chores. Again, think — medicine for LBJ.
The point I make here is: Just because a group of leading matai (our leaders) decide and agree to misuse public funds, does not make it right. If it does, then we are dealing with a “culture of corruption” — and we have sucked it right into the very fiber of our faaSamoa — our identity.
We, the public, should be very disgusted… very angry… and very, very scared.
In the words of one of our readers’ uncles: Fai a oe se’i ka le lua…