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Senate confirms three for ASPA board

The Senate yesterday confirmed three members of the American Samoa Power Authority board of directors and the trio went through their confirmation hearing later in the day before a House committee, with a vote expected today.


They are Fonoti Perelini Perelini Sr., a former ASPA executive, local businessman Peter Crispin, and Va’a Sokelati Fala, the only one from the previous ASPA board re-appointed by the Lolo Administration. The outcome of the Senate vote confirmed Fonoti 15-0; Crispin 14-1; and Va’a 14-1.


Nominees first appeared yesterday morning before the Senate Energy, Power and Water Committee, chaired by Sen. Tuiasina S. Esera, who told senators that only three members were present at the hearing.


Committee members then debated at the start of the 45-minute hearing as to whether the  confirmation process should be carried out since the other two nominees, businesswoman Isabel Hudson and businessman Daniel King, who has a finance background, weren’t present because the pair were reportedly off-island.


There was a call for the hearing to be postponed to another time when all five are present, while other senators pointed out that the Fono’s current session closes today and lawmakers won’t return until July, while ASPA has many issues which need to be addressed between now and then. The senators agreed to proceed with the confirmation hearing followed by a confirmation vote during the Senate session, because the three members present could constitute a quorum needed for the ASPA board to convene and make decisions, which are important for the authority to move on.


A final consensus came down for the committee to move forward with the hearing and Sen. Mauga T. Asuega raised several questions with Fonoti, who was appointed early this year by Lolo as the interim board chairman.


Mauga explained briefly about the previous ASPA board maintaining its stand that they are the ones responsible for approving the final annual budget for the authority instead of the Fono. Mauga said this has been a point of contention and conflict between the Fono and the previous board and wanted Fonoti to publicly state the current board’s position.


Fonoti stated that the Fono has the final approval when it comes to ASPA’s budget and this has been the stand of the current board and will continue to be its stand moving forward. He noted that years ago, the Fono always had the final say in the ASPA budget, and as far as he knows, nothing has changed.


Mauga thanked Fonoti and the board for taking this position. He went on to say that electricity is an important infrastructure for any government and in the last three months since the current board was appointed, there have been several good changes made.


Mauga then stated that he heard that some services at ASPA, such as solid waste, have been outsourced. Additionally, there is also the issue of ASPA getting out of the fuel business.


Fonoti explained that solid waste collection remains within ASPA; however, certain areas of the island have been outsourced to the local private sector, which has the right equipment-vehicle for these areas. He says ASPA doesn’t have the capacity to fully maintain this service due to the lack of certain equipment.


He also pointed out that ASPA has other pending projects, such as water and waste water, that will be outsourced to the private sector, which has the capacity to handle them and provide employment to the community.


As to ASPA being a fuel supplier, Fonoti says the authority is moving forward with the plan to get out of the fuel provider business as soon as possible, which includes as soon as provisions of contracts as a supplier is addressed. He said ASPA is looking at May to be fully out of the fuel business.


He also says that there are a lot of financial and legal responsibilities involved in being in the fuel business, and this includes insurance and making sure there is a sufficient credit line of $10 million to pay before the tankers take on fuel in Singapore bound for American Samoa. Additionally, there are fees that ASPA must pay which have become costly.


Perelini also pointed out that ASPA is a government entity and that means being a fuel supplier is a liability for the government, especially if an accident happens such as an oil spill, which could be costly. Thankfully, he added, nothing has happened so far. 


He says that getting out of the fuel business would be a much less financial burden on ASPA, which should concentrate on its core services, such as electric, water, etc.


Mauga inquired about reducing ASPA rates and Fonoti responded that some rates and fees have been reduced such as the fuel surcharge. Mauga replied, “that’s good — bring... down” the cost of electricity.


ASPA issued a public notice in early February this year announcing the reduction of certain fees and rates. Last month, ASPA chief executive officer Utu Abe Malae told Samoa News that “the fees that were reduced are for specific services or installations that will help encourage people to use the ASPA water system, plus remove restrictions that hindered our ability to help customers reconnect their services upon returning home from being off-island for a while.”


During yesterday's hearing, Mauga informed the nominees that he is against any move by ASPA to transfer the Satala Power Plant to Tafuna — which is something Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga had asked the interim board to review.


Mauga said the island still needs two power plants with Satala serving the Bay Area and the Eastern District.


Fonoti responded that the board has informed the governor that the Satala plant will be rebuilt, but it will be located further up, and further away from the shoreline. (The new Satala plant will be 90% funded by the federal government and will replace the old one destroyed by the 2009 tsunami).


Other issues raised by senators with Fonoti included having ASPA reinstate the recycling program which is beneficial to low income families; putting the rest of ASPA's electric lines underground; reducing the amount of paperwork involved in getting ASPA services connected; and expanding debit meter service to Manu’a residents.


An interesting comment came from Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao, who explained that his church has three meters and therefore pays trash collection charges for each meter — in accordance with ASPA policy.


However, Laolagi said, one of the meters serves only the air conditioner for the church building and he had inquired with ASPA as to what “trash does an air conditioner” create?


Laolagi said he was told that “it’s the policy” that each meter comes with a solid waste charge.


“‘Til now, I still don’t know what kind of ‘trash’ is created by an air condition system that would justify a solid waste charge,” he said, to a bit of laughter from other senators and a big-smile on Fonoti’s face.