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Two DOI grants replace misappropriated fed funds

Office of Insular Affairs Director Nikolao I. Pula in a press release on Thursday, July 12 announced more than $1.2 million in technical assistance grants to support American Samoa programs in education, health, and conservation.

“These grants symbolize our commitment to the people of American Samoa and we are pleased to be supporting the efforts of leaders such as Dr. Jacinta Galea'i, Director of Health Elisapeta Ponausuia, and NPS Terrestrial Ecologist Tevita Togia to improve the quality of life for the youth of American Samoa. I wish to thank these individuals for their hard work and perseverance in their respective areas of responsibilities and for reaching out to the Office of Insular Affairs for assistance,” said Pula.

(Dr. Jacinta Galea'i is identified by ASDOE as “director-designee”, while Elisapeta Ponausuia, is Acting Director of Health — both women were twice denied confirmation by the Fono for directorships of their respective departments.)

Samoa News notes that two of the technical assistance grants, one awarded to the Department of Education and the other to the Conservation Experience, are in areas that were affected by the misappropriation and misuse of federal funds in the territory, and led to the conviction of three local residents in federal court.

Now the American Samoa Department of Education will receive a $739,453 grant for a Maintenance Assistance Program – Comprehensive Bus Safety Program - This will fund 6 months of in-stock inventory for bus maintenance and upgrades for existing buses. Further funding is for specialized training for bus drivers and bus certification for the mechanics who will be seeing to the upkeep of the buses.

In 2012, former chief financial officer for American Samoa’s Department of Education Paul Solofa was sentenced to 35 months in prison for his role in a bribery scheme, involving spare parts for the ASDOE school buses. Also, convicted in the bribery scheme, in a separate case, was the head of the School Bus Division ASDOE, Gustav Nauer— sentenced to 25 months in prison. 

For theAmerican Conservation Experience – a $227,600 grant for a Technical Assistance Program – American Samoa Youth Program: Tamaligi and Red Seed Tree Eradication was awarded. This program is two-fold, in that it aims to hire American Samoa youth to assist in the removal of these types of trees; it will teach the youth about job skills and expose them to resource management career paths, as well as eradicating these invasive species and reclaiming 2,000 acres of ecologically vulnerable rainforest.

In 2012, the former executive director of the American Samoa Special Services Commission, Mrs. Mine Pase, the sister of the late Gov. Tauese Sunia and current Lt. Gov. Faoa Sunia, was convicted of conspiracy to steal more than $325,000 in AmeriCorps grant funds, and is to serve 14 months in prison. One of the programs under the ASSSC, was the Jungle Busters, the main objective of which was to work in the territory’s forests eliminating invasive plant and tree species. It closed when funding was stopped.

The third DOI technical assistant grant awarded is as follows:

American Samoa Department of Health - $312,600 Technical Assistance Program – Immunization Mobile Van – This will fund the lease of an immunization van in American Samoa for the period of January 2013 to December 2015. This has been a successful program for many years, and this funding will allow for the continuation of it. This will also fund the Flu-Uptake Initiative, which will provide a flu vaccine to the public with the Van. It will also fund the Adolescent “Give it your Best Shot” Initiative, which teaches youth about the importance of immunization shots.

The Office of Insular Affairs director said, “The funding for these programs will provide quality opportunities and assist communities for years to come.”

Samoa News editor Rhonda Annesley contributed to this report.