Treasurer informs House members $3M loan paid off
Lawmakers were told during a House Budget Committee hearing last week by ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema'o Pili that the $3-million-dollar loan which was funded from the Workmen’s Compensation Account for LBJ Medical Center has been paid off.
The wage tax, which is to be paid by every wage earner in the territory, was meant to first pay off the loan and thereafter, the proceeds would go to the hospital: 50% for hospital operations and 50% to fund the off-island medical referral program.
When Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Timusa Tini Lam Yuen inquired about the status of the loan, Falema'o said the loan was paid off.
Falema'o explained that in May, the Hospital received $200,000 and another $300,000 will be handed over later this week, per a mandate that all revenues collected from the wage tax are to go towards funding the hospital's operations.
Samoa News points out that in April, Falema'o reported that only $800,000 had been repaid on the $3 million loan.
When asked at the time about its status, the Treasurer said $800,000 had been paid off and Dec. 31, 2014 was when the government planned to pay off the loan.
Manu’a Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr, thanked Falema’o for informing the House of the great news that the $3million loan had been paid off; however, he then brought up the issue of payroll deductions and asked the Treasurer if he anticipates restoring the system for government employees, as it has affected a lot of people who depend on it to pay their bills.
Fetu said his heart goes out for the people of Manu’a who have to fly from Manu’a to Tutuila to pay their bills and the airfare is almost $200, unlike before, when payroll deductions made it easier for Manu’a residents.
He said one of the repercussions of discontinuing payroll deductions include some people losing their insurance because their premiums for both local and off island companies were deducted straight from their checks.
Falema’o explained that by the end of the year, the new payroll system will be in place and when that happens, the government will look into payroll deduction and whether it will be feasible with the new system.
He told lawmakers that carrying out the payroll deduction system cost the government $156,000 and added that the Treasury Department will be traveling to Manu’a to conduct payroll cashing for ASG employees in Manu’a, and this will be done bi-weekly.
The Treasurer informed House members that he is working with the Manu'a Liaison Officer Sualevai N. Sualevai on this project.
Falema'o said another issue he has spoken to the governor about is having all ASG employees checks direct deposited, which he said would make things easier. But, he added, some people want to see their check in paper form.
The Manu’a faipule told the Treasurer that it's not the government's priority to take cash to Manu’a, because payroll deduction not only affects the employees but also the businesses. Ma'oputasi Rep. Va’amua Henry Sesepasara said there was a resolution regarding payroll deduction and the governor was requested to reconsider the matter.
Va’amua told the Treasurer to think back and remember the years when he was a House member and the times when constituents would raise issues such as this with their faipule.
He then asked Falema’o to talk about the $156,000 savings from canceling payroll deduction.
The Treasurer explained that since payroll deduction was discontinued, there has been no more overtime for treasury employees and the workload has been lessened.
Va’amua then told Falema’o that there have been complaints about the Treasury Department and its employees, regarding the hiring of new people and yet, the payroll deduction was eliminated to save money for the government.
The faipule urged Falema’o to reconsider his move and asked, "Is it worth the government saving $156,000 over ASG employees who are in great suffering from this issue…is it worth it?”
Falema’o responded that “this move benefits everyone as a whole — the government and its people — and the question that I ask, is it the government’s responsibility to serve our people in this manner? Is it the government’s job to serve the needs of a few people and what about everyone else? This benefits some of the government employees yet it's tax payer money that is used to pay for these services and my answer is… I’m for the people."
He continued, "Is it right for a government employee to have five payroll deductions five times a week? Some of them take zero money home!”
The Treasurer told lawmakers that there are more than 4,000 ASG employees and about half were using the payroll deduction system, and it takes $156,000 from each payroll to provide this service.
An emotional Tualauta faipule Rep. Florence Vaili Saulo, who owns a local insurance company with most, if not all, of its ASG clients paying premiums using payroll deduction, told Falema'o that the discontinuation of the payroll deduction system has affected local companies, which are founded and owned by locals who have the goal of being successful.
She pointed out that she has lost hundreds of clients due to this move.
Rep Taotasi Archie Soliai intervened but that did not stop Vui from getting her point across to the Treasurer on the impact the move has made on local companies. Saulo urged the Treasurer to reconsider his decision on this matter.
(More on this hearing in this week's editions of the Samoa News).