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Utu slated to be new CEO for ASPA for the short term

The newly appointed interim American Samoa Power Authority board of directors is scheduled to convene tomorrow and selection of an interim chief executive officer is on the agenda, says Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, the governor’s executive assistant.

Samoa News understands that Utu Abe Malae will be accepting a short term interim contract as CEO of ASPA, with the new interim board intending to finalize this contract at its first meeting on Friday.

Utu’s contract is said to take into account the dire straits of the authority and his compassion for the many ASPA customers that can ill afford to pay the current costs of power and water.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga appointed Monday the five-member board to advance the work of ASPA and alleviate the high cost of utility services in American Samoa.

Iulogologo recalled that during last year’s political campaign, Lolo and Lemanu promised the people of American Samoa they will reduce the rates as soon as possible if elected and “this is exactly what they are attempting to do.”

“Numerous pleas from the Legislature and the people of American Samoa in the past fell on the deaf ears of the previous board,” he said. “Lolo and Lemanu cannot ignore the silent suffering of our families who have very limited or no income; and economic development efforts will be stymied if the cost of doing business is too high, attributed in part to the high cost of utilities.”

Among the interim board members are four newly appointed members and a reappointed member. (See yesterday’s front-page story for more details).

Samoa News asked Iulogologo if there are any recommendations or suggestions from the governor to the board about a new CEO and if so, who is being suggested for the post, which has been held by Andra Samoa for over five years receiving an alleged $120,000 per year, inclusive of benefits.

Iulogologo said the new board convenes tomorrow and will appoint an interim boss for ASPA. There was no indication from Iulogologo if Lolo will suggest a permanent candidate, but former ASPA boss Utu’s name was mentioned several times by individuals connected with the new administration.

Samoa News notes that Utu was the transition leader for the committee that reviewed ASPA’s operations, which included the numerous fees associated with the pre-paid [debit] meter.

He is also a supporter of establishing a Public Utilities Commission that would regulate the rates and services for electricity, water, wastewater, and solid waste (rubbish). In some U.S. states such a commission also regulates water resale, public transportation (buses & taxis), communications, and energy, such as natural gas, oil and fuel supplies.

According to the governor’s office, the permanent ASPA board will be appointed after Lolo submits amendments to the ASPA statute, with consideration afforded to those who are serving now.

The amendments are in draft stage and Lolo hopes that within six months the proposed amendments will have been approved by the Legislature.

Iulogologo did not reveal what the amendments to the ASPA statute will be.

Two hot button ASPA issues that have been discussed by the Fono in previous sessions are the board’s insistence that it — not the Legislative branch — has final approval of its budget,  and that members of the board can continue to serve after the expiration of their 4-year term, awaiting reappointment, or replacement by a new appointment, which would also need to be confirmed by the Fono.

Local statute states in part that ASPA board directors’ recess appointments expire at the conclusion of the next regular or special session of the Legislature, if they are not confirmed during that session. Each regular session convenes for 45 days and each special session convenes based on the number of days the governor calls a special session.

The regular session of the Fono is set to begin this Monday, Jan. 14. How the governor will deal with the interim appointments to the ASPA board was not addressed, as the statute notes they must be confirmed during regular or special Fono sessions or their appointments expire at the end of said sessions.

Iulogologo did confirm that Perelini Perelini, who the governor appointed as board chairman, is the off-island board member, as Perelini resides in Samoa.

“Perelini is the most experienced in operating and managing utilities given his many years at ASPA. The governor needs to have someone who is thoroughly familiar with electrical generation and other utilities like water, wastewater, and solid waste,” he said and noted that these are recess appointments for the ASPA board.

There was no mention of who the second off-island board member is, as the local law calls for a five-member ASPA board comprising at least two members experienced in the management of electric utilities, at least one having a financial background, at least one with a legal background, and no “fewer” than two members are to be from outside American Samoa.