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Unanimous House vote amends ASPA BOD expiration terms

In a unanimous vote last Thursday, the House approved in final reading a Senate bill (S.B.31-20) that seeks to amend the statute which allows the American Samoa Power Authority board of director members to continue to serve after their terms have expired.

The terms for ASPA  board chairman Asaua Fuimaono and board member Va'a Sokelati are current, while terms for board members  Steve Felte, Fanene Morris Scanlan and Norman Okamura have long expired.

Current law states that an incumbent board member may continue to serve after the expiration of a term until a successor is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

The Senate bill deletes this provision and provides a new one that states that any “incumbent board member who is not reappointed and resubmitted to the Legislature for confirmation prior to the expiration of his term or within 90-days thereafter shall then be deemed resigned from the board and may no longer continue to serve.”

The Senate passed the bill in early September 2011 and sent it to the House where a hearing was held later that month. The governor’s assistant legal counsel, Douglas Fiaui told the committee that the current statute is set up to ensure that there is no disruption in the work of the board when terms in office have expired.

However, the bill remained in the House committee while the Fono battled with ASPA over who has the authority to approve ASPA’s annual budget. ASPA officials claim it’s the board who holds that authority, while the Fono disagrees.

Since the beginning of this year, Rep. Larry Sanitoa — a frequent critic of ASPA’s rate hikes — has urged the House ASPA/Energy Committee to act on the bill and report it to the floor for a vote.

In last week’s House session, Sanitoa reiterated his argument and pointed out that the House had just approved the Senate bill to override the governor’s veto of ASPA’s $30 million budget for the current fiscal year, saying that it’s time for his colleagues act on the legislation, which the House finally did.

“Passing Senate Bill 32-20 by a unanimous vote of 15 to 0 in the House  is a significant achievement for the 32nd Legislative Session,” Sanitoa told Samoa News after the bill was passed.

“This important legislation if signed into law by Governor Togiola will put an end to the ambiguity of the existing statute Title 15 pertaining to ASPA’s board of director terms.”

“I applaud the Fono leaders and honorable members of both chambers on their foresight, and being steadfast in moving forward with passing this legislation,” he said, adding “By no means should this be misconstrued as a negative reflection on any individual member that is serving on ASPA’s board. This legislation simply places concise language in the statute to clarify when a board member’s term is to be considered invalid.”

Members of the Fono have long questioned the legality of decisions made by the ASPA board since a majority of the members have had their terms expire a long time ago. Some lawmakers say the current law makes appointment of board members a “lifetime” appointment.

According to the bill’s preamble, the proper and legal composition of boards and commissions is fundamental to accepted management principles, and applies to ASPA.

“To encourage the recognized good management practice of ensuring that terms of board members are current and valid, but at the same time recognizing the multitude of demands placed on a governor... and the degree of flexibility needed regarding recess board appointments, it is believed that a period of 90 days represents a reasonable time within which to fill an expired term board vacancy created either by new appointment or reappointment of incumbent members,” the bill says.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono early last year vetoed a similar bill, due mainly to the provision of the bill  which states “or within 60 days” after the term expires as well as some harsh language in the preamble dealing with accountability.

The new measure now uses “or within 90 days” and accountability of the board is deleted. It’s unclear if the governor will approve this new proposal.

In response to questions to Samoa News about compensation for board members, local law states that the each board member receives $5,000 a year while the chairman gets $6,000 annually.