Senate re-allocates $100K to cover repairs for MV Sili
The Senate has re-allocated $100,000 in supplemental appropriations to cover any repair expenses for the MV Sili. Senators then approved the bill Thursday in second reading while the third and final reading is set for Monday.
The House on the other hand approved Thursday in third and final reading the supplemental without any changes. Their version will be introduced in the Senate next Monday.
Prior to the Senate vote, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee heard testimonies Thursday morning from ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili and ASG Budget Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua about the supplemental request.
Pili provided a brief explanation about the four different funding sources as well as the expenditures detailed in the bill. He also gave a brief, but sufficient explanation on the $1.3 million, saying these are the “unassigned proceeds” of the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement. (See Samoa News edition on Tuesday for more details on the tobacco money)
Regarding the $1.5 million in military cover-over tax revenue source, Pili said this is new money identified so far, while the government is going back to 1988 working with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to collect all monies owed to American Samoa.
Asked by the committee if there are any other new revenues not presented to the Fono yet, Pili said there are some, but they are not finalized. And once finalized, they will be presented to the Fono for appropriation in accordance with the law, he added.
There were a handful of questions regarding the programs to be funded with the supplemental. One of the questions dealt with the $300,000 allocated to the Department of Education for school building maintenance and purchase of school supplies.
Pili explained that among the supplies to be purchased are books. He also pointed out funding for DOE maintenance in FY 2013 was cut during the budget review last year and therefore funds are needed to carry out maintenance for school buildings.
Another question was the $250,000 for the Amnesty program development and contract services, to which Pili explained that this program is being developed at this point, dealing with illegal foreigners who are still in the territory. He said this money will among other things, fund researching on this particular issue, as well as pay for attorneys who will be involved in final review and draft of any proposed legislation.
Committee chairman Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao recalled Lolo’s address to the Fono in January, saying that he has terminated the contract service of two attorneys, based in Washington D.C. who had provided legal and lobby services for past administrations.
He said the supplemental now seeks $300,000 for Governor’s Office contract services for consultancy projects and wanted more information on this allocation.
Pili responded that following a recent visit to Washington D.C. the governor found that there is a need to have consultants for the administration in D.C. to assist with many issues pertaining to American Samoa.
Once senators were satisfied with the explantation by the administration, the witnesses were dismissed and the committee held their own discussions.
Laolagi told his colleagues that one urgent matter he humbly asked senators for their consent is funds to repair the MV Sili, which has been down for some two weeks and this means there has been no service to the Manu’a islands all this time.
He requested $100,000 to help fund the repairs by reallocating $50,000 from the Governor’s Office contract services for consultancy for projects and $50,000 from the Amnesty program development.
Laolagi said he has checked the entire FY 2013 budget but there is no budgeted money specifically for MV Sili repairs, but only money to assist with Manu’a transportation services.
Sen. Soliai Tuipine agreed, saying that if there are any problems with this ASG vessel, then it's the Fono’s duty to provide funds. Sen. Mauga T. Asuega also supported Laolagi’s request but suggested that $50,000 be cut from both the Amnesty program development and the Small Village Fund (which is seeking $150,000).
Two senators suggested using the entire $100,000 that was requested to purchase tools and equipment for Village Beautification to be used instead for the MV Sili.
Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, the former ASG Treasurer, told senators that $1 million is allocated in the FY 2013 budget for DOE maintenance and suggested cutting $100,000 from the supplemental that was earmarked for DOE maintenance and purchase of school supplies for the MV Sili.
Mauga added that if this is the case, there is $1 million already in FY 2013 for DOE maintenance, then he supports Magalei’s recommendations. And this was also the consensus of committee members.
The bill was presented for approval in second reading Thursday and Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie quickly pointed out that some senators just early this week had raised serious concerns with condition of the schools, yet the committee has decided to take $100,000 out for the MV Sili.
He said if money is needed for the MV Sili then the appropriate ASG officials should be called in to provide an explanation as well as informing the Senate of the total cost of repairs to the vessel. He reiterated that some senators had complained about the bad condition of school buildings.
Laolagi responded that this matter was deliberated by the committee, which agreed to reallocating $100,000 from the supplemental under DOE maintenance for MV Sili. He also pointed out that this is a supplemental appropriation to which the Senate can make amendments.
Gaoteote quickly asked if the people overseeing the MV Sili requested any funds and Laolagi responded no — and before the committee chairman could go any further, Gaoteote interjected, saying that the Governor’s Office can request funding to fix the vessel.
Sen. Saole Mila said that that maybe the MV Sili can be addressed at a later time, while the Senate can proceed with the governor’s supplemental bill.
Gaoteote says that he has also inquired with the government on the status of the MV Sili and he was told that the vessel is awaiting its turn to be taken up at the shipyard slipway but the actual cost of repairs remains unknown.
He quickly added that the majority of the committee has consented to the allocation for the MV Sili and called for the amendments to be announced, followed by the full vote for approval in second reading.
There was also one technical amendment made to the bill to correct the name of the plaintiff in a High Court judgement against ASG. Instead of Amosa Tinitali, as cited in the supplemental, the correct name is Amosa S. Amosa Jr.