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Only one ASG witness shows for Senate hearing on LBJ bills

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie says it’s only when administration bills are being discussed and debated by Fono committees that ASG officials called as witnesses even bother to show up for committee hearings — but not when it comes to Fono sponsored measures.

Gaoteote’s comments were made towards the end of yesterday’s Senate session responding to concerns raised by some senators over the lack of cooperation from the executive branch when ASG witnesses failed to appear at Fono committee hearings.

Sen. Velega Savali Jr. was the first to raise the issue, saying that the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held a hearing earlier in the day to discuss one of the Senate sponsored bills to help provide urgent financial needs for LBJ Medical Center.

However, only ASG Budget Office director Malemo Tausaga showed up, while the two main witnesses—ASG Treasurer Magalei Logovi’i and Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley— were ‘no-shows’.

Information from Fono staffers given to the committee stated that summons for both individuals to appear at the hearing were delivered in a timely manner, but the Senate only learned prior to the hearing that the pair would not be able to attend. It was revealed at the committee hearing that Magalei is currently off-island while Fepuleai was attending to other pressing government matters.

During the session, Velega said he is very disappointed and saddened that the two witnesses didn’t show up for the Senate hearing and he said this action clearly shows the lack of cooperation from the government.

He said this is not the first time that required government witnesses, especially Magalei, didn’t make the effort to appear in committee hearings. He said the Senate is now forced to postpone the hearing on this matter due to the lack of witnesses and this will not resolve the urgent needs of the hospital.

Gaoteote on the other hand, says he is not clear as to why the committee didn’t take action on the proposal even without witnesses. He said the Fono legal counsel was present at the hearing to provide detailed background information needed by the Senate. He said, the Senate cannot afford to wait for witnesses to provide testimonies when there is a serious financial problem at LBJ.

Towards the end of the hearing, the Senate president noted that the five Senate bills to help the hospital have been fully researched— including the funding sources — before they were introduced in chambers. He further stated that it’s only when administration bills are discussed by lawmakers that witnesses will promptly show up, but when it involves Fono sponsored bills, they (the Fono) wait forever.

Sen. Mauga T. Asuega agreed with Velega and recalled Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s state of the territory address last week Monday, where the governor called upon the Fono and the Executive branch to work together this year to accomplish goals and improve the lives of local residents.

However, here the Senate is, still faced with the same problem — a lack of cooperation from ASG witnesses being called to explain the government’s financial matters, including all government accounts in order for senators to get a clear understanding, said Mauga.

“Who are they (directors), not to appear before the honorable senators when called upon?” asked Mauga. He said the Senate should have been informed in advance about ASG witnesses not being able to make it to the hearing.

He said the Senate has been very patient when it comes to this problem with ASG witnesses being a ‘no-show’.

Sen. Fonoti T. Aufata also recalled the governor’s address to the Fono in which Togiola sought out the Fono’s help on several matters including the hospital. She said directors should not leave the territory when the governor speaks with concern about issues facing the government. She said health care is a serious issue that everyone should be concerned about.

Sen. Paogofie Fiaigoa, however said, he believes that Magalei would not be the best person to provide information regarding funding source for the bill discussed earlier by the committee, and suggested that officials of the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform be called in next time.

He agreed with the other senators concerning the lack of witnesses; but pointed out that he believes that witnesses are attending to very important government matters.