Gaoteote: Senate is not confused, we are concerned
“The Fono is not confused… but concerned” with the administration's $4.3 million reprogram bill, declared Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie at yesterday’s Senate session, adding that maybe it is the governor who is “confused”.
The reprogram bill was tabled in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review when the Fono next reconvenes, after the ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili — who is currently off island on government business — was a no-show at a hearing last week. The House has also tabled its version of the bill.
At yesterday’s Senate session, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s letter to the Fono was distributed, indicating the Governor was available to personally testify on the bill and explain any issues that needed clarification on the measure he has proposed to help balance the budget for FY 2013.
Gaoteote informed senators there is no reason for the governor to appear before the Fono to answer questions, as that is the responsibility of the Treasurer, who has appeared before the Fono many times on various financial matters for the government.
He then told senators the governor’s letter doesn't say the Fono is confused, as reported by the newspaper, but he added again the “Fono is not confused”. Instead, he says the "Fono is concerned” and that the governor is probably the “one who is confused”.
As reported by Samoa News yesterday, the governor told his cabinet at their meeting last Wednesday that “there is big confusion in the Fono right now” as to the purpose of the $4.3 million reprogramming bill. He said that the confusion is that the Fono is looking at this $4.3 million as new revenue, but it is not.
Gaoteote told senators yesterday that every time the word Fono is used, that includes the Senate, made up of traditional leaders, who are fully aware of what this bill is all about; therefore public statements should be clear and correct.
He said that among his important duties is one to protect the integrity of the Senate; he feels that statements about the Fono being confused are incorrect and misleading.
Additionally, he said the Fono is fully aware of issues involved in this bill but now the governor wants to appear at the Fono to further explain the reprogramming and the question is — what does the governor want to make clear and explain?
The Senate president said the Fono is very clear about these funds and the Fono just wants a complete financial report and supporting data to justify the reprogramming.
He said the governor has stated that these are not new monies, they are unexpended funds from FY 2013. Gaoteote says a provision of the law is clear which says if there are any unexpended or leftover funds, those funds go to the general fund account, to be re-appropriated by the Fono.
The Senate President further pointed out that another concern for the Fono is that this bill was only submitted a few days before the end of FY 2013 and that didn’t give lawmakers enough time to thoroughly review and address what the administration wants.
Additionally, the Fono is fully aware of the difference between reprograming of funds and re-appropriation of funds, he said, adding the Senate wanted the Treasurer to answer questions about the reprogrammed money.
Moreover, some of the monies in the reprogram were also part of the $5 million supplemental bill and these are monies that were not part of the original budget of 2013, he noted, adding "Therefore, these monies are new monies in the request."
Gaoteote went on to point out that the government has not paid all of its outstanding debts for the fiscal year but it appears the administration is claiming a “surplus”.
In closing, Gaoteote thanked senators for their patience on this issue and again stated that the Fono is not confused at all but— “we are very concerned”.