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Widely anticipated DBAS hearing postponed TFN

Due to the lack of a quorum yesterday, the Senate Investigative Committee members present were unanimous is postponing the hearing on the federal Section 1602 Program, administered by the Development of American Samoa (DBAS).

However,  DBAS president Lolo M. Moliga maintains that the SIC assessment and probe into the program is politically motivated because he is a candidate for the 2012 governor’s race.

Lolo, along with Pat Galeai, executive director of the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO), was subpoenaed to testify on Section 1602, which provided American Samoa with some $30 million for low income housing. Lolo also brought along some of his staff who worked on this program and Galeai brought at least three of his staff.

The Senate gallery was packed with several spectators, supporters of Lolo and recipients of the 1602 program. Also in the gallery was Lolo’s running mate, candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. Lemanu Peleti Mauga.

Just around 9 a.m., the scheduled hearing time, SIC chairman Sen. Lualemaga Faoa announced the names of the SIC members present: himself and Sens. Velega Savali (also vice chair) and Malepeai Setu, along with SIC legal counsel Henry Kappel.

Lualemaga cited provisions of the SIC rules and procedures in which a quorum is required for the investigative arm of the Senate to conduct its public hearings. He asked the two members present for their consensus to continue the hearing “to a future date”, to which Velega and Malepeai agreed.

Other members of SIC are Sens. Fuamatu J.V. Fuamatu, Paogofie Fiaigoa and Mauga T. Asuega.

Lualemaga then called for Lolo and Galeai to come down to the Senate chamber and sit at the witness table. Also joining the two ASG officials inside the Senate chamber were staff from DBAS and ASESRO.

Lualemaga announced the decision by the SIC to postpone the hearing to another time, and the witnesses will be informed. Just around this time, another SIC member, Sen. Fuata Dr. Tagi’lima Iatala arrived in the chamber.

Lolo, who spoke on behalf of the witnesses, told the committee they were prepared for whenever SIC needs them to return, adding that he brought his staff along for a complete and thorough explanation on the Section 1602 program.

After the hearing, Lualemaga told Samoa News that this issue is not finished. He said that it has been continued due to the lack of a quorum and will be rescheduled for a future date. As for Fuata arriving in Chamber when the hearing was already underway, Lualemaga said the decision was announced prior to his arrival and the time of  9a.m. was set for the hearing, without any delays.

Samoa News spoke to Lolo outside of the Fono building after the hearing, where Lolo maintained the SIC probe is politically motivated and he is the target of the probe, because he is a candidate for governor.

“Why did they wait until now... to probe the program?” he asked. Lolo believes that any SIC assessment of the program should wait until the program is completed at the end of this year.

Asked for reaction to Lolo’s comments,  Lualemaga said via telephone, that “there is nothing politically motivated involved in finding out the status of this important program.” Lualemaga added that he has already responded on this allegation of political motivation — referring to his Jun. 26 letter to Lolo, who first raised the issue in a June 25 letter to the SIC chairman.

“SIC’s concern is transparency and accountability for the program, which are the guiding principles it follows in other areas of inquiry,” Lualemaga wrote to Lolo. (See yesterday’s story for full details of the exchange of letters between Lolo and Lualemaga).

Lolo, during the brief interview outside the Fono building, also said that he had hoped the SIC would look into the records of the candidates running in the gubernatorial race and their unpaid loans with DBAS. “Now that would make sense to the public,” said Lolo, adding that it’s unfair to him and the bank to be targeted this way.

Asked for a reaction, Lualemaga fired back, “That’s not my business. He is the president of the Development Bank and should go after all those not making their loan payments.”

Lualemaga also disagreed with another statement by Lolo that SIC is harassing DBAS staff and the bank president regarding Section 1602.

Lolo said he brought the DBAS staff handling the program to the hearing to tell the SIC, the Fono and the government that these are the hard working sons and daughters of American Samoa who are helping to bring this program here, and SIC should thank the bank staff instead of trying to “harass” and “discredit” them and the bank.

Lualemaga, however, has insisted that 1602 program is but one of several areas the SIC is looking into, and other issues have being identified for inquiry. Additionally, a majority of the SIC members felt it is a timely, legitimate area worthy of review by the SIC.