Travel perks still top list for dubious Fono spending
The Legislative (Fono) Finance Office is not exempt from the issue of questionable spending that has been brought to light since last week, when Samoa News obtained a complete copy of the Fono’s expenses between October 2012 and February 2013.
Altogether, the Fono’s Finance Office, under the direction of Talalemotu Mauga, spent $504,335.63 in a five-month time period and it employs about a dozen people.
Like the Senate and the House of Representatives, most of the questionable spending involves travel and other payments made out to individuals and businesses without any justifiable reason or explanation, and filed under unrelated categories like “Food for Human Consumption” and “Repair and Maintenance Supplies.”
In particular, the name of Solia, Fofoga once again appears in the finance office’s expense outlays, with a payment of $12,000 made on Nov 23rd, under the category of “Other Miscellaneous Expenditure”.
Samoa News notes that between Oct. 2012 and Feb. 2013, payments made out to Solia, Fofoga amounted to over $100,000 and this includes all payments made from the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Finance Office, and other Fono offices, filed under different expense categories, including off-island travel, food for human consumption, repair and maintenance supplies, operating supplies, other miscellaneous expenditures, office supplies, and other employee benefits.
There are never any specific explanations or notes on what the money is actually used for, as the payments have no specifics attached.
Reliable sources at the Fono say that checks are usually made out to Solia, who then cashes them, and uses them to pay for things he is instructed to pay, with the ultimate say in how the money is spent is at the discretion of the House Speaker and the Senate President.
“There is a big need to audit the finances of the local Legislature,” said one senior government official who wished to remain anonymous. “The faipules and senators are the same people who bash the different ASG departments and agencies during annual budget hearings and yet, they are the main ones who overspend their budget, are always in need of a supplemental appropriation to cover their debts, and dish out lots of money on things that are unaccounted for and not justified.”
Furthermore, “It is sad to know that the Fono gets such a big budget every year but there is no guideline in place on how the money should be spent. It’s almost like they are kids that receive an allowance and then they are free to do whatever they want with the money, without having to answer to anybody.”
He concluded, “The abuse needs to stop. We all want to travel for free to visit our kids and go on vacation or tend to other family matters. But not all of us have the luxury of having our airfares and per diems paid for whenever we want. There is always talk about the need for accountability and transparency in the ASG but I think it needs to start at the Fono.”
As noted in previous reports, the Fono has an approved budget of $6.2 million for fiscal year 2013. Based on First Quarter Performance Report submitted by the ASG Treasury Department, 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. But recently, an approved supplemental budget gave $500,000 back to their budget.
Another Samoa News source pointed out that the Fono really has no oversight agency to independently look at the Legislature’s activities, making it hard — and maybe even impossible — to request an audit, as the final approval for any such reports will have to come from the two leaders (the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives), both of whom are being well compensated with “protocol“ expenses and travel perks that range between $5,000 and $7,000 per trip.
In review of the Legislative Finance Office (LFO) expense report the following is noted as “questionable” by Samoa News:
One payment for “overtime” was paid out on Nov. 24, 2012, but there are no specific names given as to whom the payment was made.
“Holiday Pay” amounted to $17,714.83 and “Sick Leave” totaled $2,012.37 and again, there are no names given as to who was entitled to these payments, only the dates the payments were issued.
Under “Other Employee Benefits,” the names of Fono Finance employees are noted with their bi-weekly salaries — but there are two checks issued on Oct. 23, 2012 to Blanche Fruean-Tua and her sister-in-law Lisa Ann Fruean, for $2,163 each.
Then on Dec. 6, 2012, a payment of $2,500 was made out to Fruean-Tua, who a month later, also received $2,016 for per diem in Honolulu, another $156 for per diem in Los Angeles, and $25 for “land transportation” before the Fono’s Finance Office paid Mabuhay Travel for her airfare of $2,239.40 on Feb. 6.
Under the same category, three payments totaling $22,366.20 were made out to Solia, Fofoga on Dec. 19.
Again under the same category, on Jan. 17, $2,156.40 was paid out for airfare, per diem in Honolulu, and land transportation for Fono staffer Laupama T. Gaoa, while Head of the LFO Talalemotu Mauga also had his airfare of $1,707.37 covered by the Fono, including car rental expenses and per diem in Honolulu totaling $3,064 on Feb. 6.
Under the category of “Food for Human Consumption” there are two questionable payments made out to individuals who are not Fono employees.
One check in the amount of $1,500.72 was paid out on Oct. 9 to Sema M. Fruean — an employee of the Treasury’s Customs Division and husband of Fono staffer Lisa Ann Fruean; and another payment of $700 was paid out on Oct. 12 to Shirley (Fruean) Abadia — a former employee of the Development Bank of American Samoa and one of the incorporators for Nana‘s Company.
Also under the same category on Dec. 21; a total of $3,051.40 for airfare, per diem, and land transportation expenses for Annette Faagogo was paid out. The Fono Finance Office also footed the bill of $816 for per diem in Apia for Sualevai, Nofoa on Feb. 21, 2013.
Under the “Repair and Maintenance Supplies,” Toa O Samoa Car Rental was paid another $1,200 on Nov. 8, along with four other car rental fees totaling $4,235 paid out to Tautai Car Rental in Nu’uuli, although the report does not specify who used the vehicles or for how long. Question: is the car rental expense listed under this category because the many Fono vehicles available for Fono business were in the ‘shop being repaired’?
On Dec. 4, the Fono Finance Office paid out a total of $1,593 for per diem in Honolulu and land transportation for Marivonn Mauga. On Jan. 17, Leone High School was paid $1,000 under the “Repair and Maintenance“ category, and another $1,000 was paid out to Fa’ali Otineru for the same noted reason. A payment of $2,133.72 was made out to Mabuhay Travel on Feb. 28 with “Repair and Maintenance” listed as the reason for the payment.
For “Manu’a Local Travel,” $200 was paid out for per diem for Rep. Toeaina Autele, although it is unclear why the Fono Finance Office would pay when Toeaina is a sitting member of the House of Representatives and therefore, his travel should be paid for by the Fono’s lower chamber, not the Fono Finance Office.
Under the category “Off Island Travel,” the LFO spent over $34,000 on airfare, per diem, and land transportation costs accumulated by about a handful of its staff members. On Oct. 12, Fofoga Solia received three payments totaling $5,048.20 for airfare, car rental, and per diem in Honolulu on Oct. 12.
He also received two payments totaling $3,804 for airfare and per diem in Auckland on Nov. 13 and four payments totaling $5,845.22 on Dec. 21 for airfare reimbursement, land transportation, and per diem in Honolulu and Seattle.
Travel expenses totaling $1,185 for airfare and per diem to Apia for Savali Vaeao was paid on Oct. 17 and less than a week later, three payments totaling $1,889 was paid out for car rental, per diem in Apia, and airfare for Talalemotu Mauga.
A total of $3,865 for per diem in Honolulu, land transportation, and airfare was paid out on Oct. 31 for Lisa Ann Fruean and on the same day, Mabuhay Travel also received two payments of $1,580.20 each for airfare.
On Dec. 26, a total of $3,045 for land transportation, per diem in Honolulu and San Jose was paid for Solia, Isopo. The LFO also picked up the tab for his airfare on Dec. 31, with a payment to Mabuhay Travel in the amount of $2,562.40.
Blanche Fruean-Tua again collected $3,865 for airfare, land transportation and per diem in Honolulu on Dec. 27.
(Stay tuned to the Samoa News for more news on Fono expenses, including expenses for the Legislative Reference Bureau, the new Fono building, and the Fono’s computer expenses.)