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Veteran ASG employee now heads Budget Office

Catherine Dora Aigamaua-Saelua of Leone is the new Director for the Project Planning and Budget Office — after the House of Representatives approved her in a vote of 17-1, yesterday. The one-hour confirmation hearing was held on Tuesday, while the Senate vote for Aigamaua-Saelua was held on Monday, which was also a 17- 1 vote. 


During her opening remarks, Aiagamaua-Saelua informed house members that her service to the government is over 30 years, and she has worked with the Budget office for 24 of those years, while the remaining years were spent serving at ASTCA.


She thanked Gov. Lolo M. Moliga and Lt. Gov. Lemanu P. Mauga for their trust and faith with their nomination of her to head the Budget office.


Aiagamaua-Saelua pointed out to lawmakers that she’s ready for the post, given her years of experience in this office.


Vice Speaker I’aulualo Talia Fa’afetai asked about the federal budget sequester and what the Budget office and the governor are working on to handle the cutbacks.


Aigamaua-Saelua said that since the approval of the budget's $32.9 million (Federal Grants), precautionary measures have been taken, where each department and agency has been requested to cutback 10% of its FY2013 budget in light of the financial crunch.


(A memorandum has been issued for the 10% cutback for the whole government. See separate story in this edition.)


I’aulualo then stated it his belief that there are several reasons why the government continues to overspend, saying that either they don’t have money, or the budget that is presented to the legislature is not accurate.


He said, last week the director of DOE and her management team noted there is a law that 1% of the 5% excise tax is mainly for the repair and maintenance of school facilities, and within the last year only $500,000 was appropriated by the Budget Office to the DOE out of the 1%.


 “The money that was actually collected was 6% in 2011, the money that was collected in 2012 (of the 1%) is 1.4 million, so please can you explain why the Budget office is not complying with the existing law?" he asked.


Aiagamaua-Saelua explained that the original submission was $1 million for the school repairs, however when the budget was approved, the Fono cut that in half, leaving only $500,000. “The cut was from the legislature, so when the supplemental budget is submitted they will include the remaining $500,000 for the repair of the school facilities,” she said.


The Vice Speaker, noted that to his understanding the Fono cut the $500,000 because the lawmakers did not fully understand the presentation of the budget.


“That’s why I’m posing the question — are you prepared to uphold the law that regulates the spending of the budget in the government, because the law says that 1% of the 5% goes to the DOE. Not even the governor has the right to change that, not even the governor,” he said.


He then noted that Aiagamaua-Saelua’s qualifications are unquestionable, given her long term of service in this Department.


Fagatogo faipule, Maugaoalii Sipa Anoai questioned the nominee as to her knowledge regarding the funding under the Economic Stabilization Funds, which are allocated specifically for natural disasters or economic downfall, noting that, also by law, there should be an advisory commission established to deal with times of natural disasters.


He said if his recollection was accurate there should be $200,000 budgeted for the economic stabilization funds yearly.


 Aiagamaua-Saelua said that she understands those funds, but it’s been ten years since money has been budgeted for the Economic Stabilization fund.


Maugaoalii urged Aiagamaua-Saelua to look into establishing this commission given that it’s mandated by law, and also told her to look into finding ways to have the money accumulate throughout the years.


He said, if the math is correct we should have close to $7million from the time this particular bill was approved in 1983.


“Were facing a financial crunch right now and this is part of the money that could assist the government in terms of stabilization,” he said.


Maugaoalii also questioned Aigamaua-Saelua regarding the District Funds which were distributed to each district — Eastern, Western and Manu’a — $1 million each. He asked if there were any funds left for the Eastern District— namely the village of Fagatogo — and she replied that there are funds available.


“There is not much left, because $1 million was allocated to each of the districts and I know that Manu’a has used the majority of their funding.”


She explained that $100,000 was taken from each of the district funds to administer the office that handles those funds, but there is "still some money left in the Western and Eastern funds.”