A SAMOA NEWS EDITORIAL: TO OUR FONO — STOP ABUSING US!
Here’s an interesting idea: How about a Fono made up of lawmakers that pass legislation based on what their constituency want? Or, how about a Fono that introduces bills based on what their constituency want? Or, wow — how about a Fono that does its job — to represent us by acting in our best interests — sometimes whether we like it or not?
Here’s their record, since this last session, according to Samoa News archives:
1 Held their own elections, after they were sworn in, and voted the same persons back in, to lead them — that certainly tells Us: All’s right with their World.
2 Both chambers chose committee members, with the Speaker of the House assigning the people who voted for him to sit on committees — while punishing the ones who voted against him by giving them no committee seats. At one point, the House majority even refused to let the opposition (seven reps) speak during committee hearings. Luckily, some common sense prevailed and the opposition was allowed to ask “a” question.
3 Held confirmation hearings for the new administration’s appointees to head government departments and for new board members for various agencies. The House passed them all, but the Senate rejected 2 of the director-appointees: a Samoa citizen and a white man.
4 Passed government introduced legislation, after they amended it, to increase the number of members on the Immigration Board, from 5 to 7, with a quorum of 5 needed to do business, despite being told 1) the advice of the AG’s Office was never solicited, and 2) getting a quorum together for the old board was like pulling teeth — that was when they needed only 3.
5 Passed a government introduced supplemental budget, which gave them $500,000 to add to their ‘in the red’ budget — it’s justifiable because that’s how much was cut from their budget last year… you see… But then they took $100,000 from the Dept. of Education to finance repairs for the MV Sili — and didn’t even know how much those repairs would be. The bill was just over $30,000 — so I wonder where the balance of $70,000 is sitting? I guess, decent bathrooms and other school facilities for our children is not a priority with this Fono.
6 Introduced and passed resolutions honoring certain people.
7 Closed the session for two weeks, while about 25 of them flew off to Honolulu for the ASG Employees Retirement Fund meeting.
In return for this work, we, the people, paid out over a period of about 5 months to the Senate $1,291,935.88; to the House $1,069,016.17; to the Legislative Finance Office (LFO) $504,335.63, and to the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) $356,709.94.
While the majority of money was for payroll, including employee benefits and office expenses, memorable payouts are:
1 Off-island travel over a period of 5 months — Oct. 2012- Feb. 2013— to the tune of $182,000 for the Senate, for the House $105,426, for the Legislature Reference Bureau $26,855, and for the Legislature Finance Office $88,347. That’s $402,628 in total or 13% of their total budget expended in this time period.
2 Ran around on island spending over $5,000 a month on gas, and about $7,000 on car rentals. (Samoa News was not able to find out how many vehicles the Fono has in its fleet. However, if you work it out that the IRS allows for reimbursement of .53¢ per mile — then the Fono paid out for around 9,434 miles of travel per month. Tutuila island is said to have about 167 miles of paved roads.)
3 Performed “protocols” worth $73,500 — most of it paid out in checks made out directly to Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Gaoteote and Fofogafe Solia, although House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale did receive $4,000.
4 Had consultants advise them for $141,790, which includes cultural advisors Te’o J. Fuavai, Aumoeualogo Salanoa Soli, Afuola Nanai, and [Pulu] Ae Ae, Jr., and consultant company, PT & Associates, which is owned by Executive Special Advisor to Gov. Lolo M. Moliga, Iu Joseph Pereira and the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Taimalelagi Minnie Tuia.
5 For around $141,718, they ate and entertained at local restaurants and formal events, such as the Swearing-in ceremony of the new lawmakers in January 2013. This does not include off-island “Food & Drink for Human Consumption”.
That’s a GRAND TOTAL OF $3, 221,997.62, the Fono paid out in total expenses over a period of five months, and Samoa News has not reported on the expenses of the new Fono building — that two-story ‘tech building’ to the left of the main Fono building, connecting to the Fono fale Samoa, and the Fono’s computer expenses.
The Fono has an approved budget of $6.2 million for fiscal year 2013, which means they have used half of it already and still have seven months to go (March- September 2013). Their First Quarter Performance Report (Oct 2012- Dec 2012) submitted by the ASG Treasury Department, states that the Fono is projected to have an overrun of $1.5 million in 2013.
The Fono has already overrun their first quarter budget by almost $400,000, according to the ASG Treasury report, but the recently approved supplemental budget gave them back $500,000.
AND, all that money — IS OUR MONEY — THE PEOPLE’S MONEY.
Remember: The Fono is 100% funded with local taxpayers money and that alone demands an independent audit of our Legislative branch’s finances — LET’S MAKE THAT A LAW.
And in that law, lay out penalties that include going to jail for corruption, stealing, and other misuses of public funds.
I would love to ask for an “oversight” committee — but who believes they can police themselves?
And, since the lawmakers keep referring to themselves as ‘our fathers’ — I say, let’s get it out in the open: STOP ABUSING US!
Like the child, who is constantly slapped and hit, when he or she keeps crying — out loud and continuously, in public, and told to “cry quietly” — because culturally that’s what we do: I SAY — DON’T WANT TO ANYMORE!
I want to sing it from the mountaintops and dance it in the corridors of the fale Fono — “I want our voices to be heard. I want you, the Fono, to stop abusing the trust we have given you as our lawmakers and leaders.”
Simply put: Represent us by acting in our best interests. Do your jobs, for which we pay you — apparently, better than we pay ourselves.
And for those Fono members and employees who are doing their jobs, in spite of the self-interests of their colleagues — thank you for your tautua to Us, the people. It is appreciated. God Bless You.
“O le ala i le pule o le tautua” — “The path to leadership is through service.”