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ASPA management blames Fono for rate increases

Voters in the territory have once again rejected a proposed amendment to the Revised Constitution of American Samoa which would have given the Fono the power to override the governor’s veto, rather than the U.S. Secretary of Interior.

Of the total 13,031 ballots counted for the referendum vote, 7,177 voted “no” to reject while 5,854 voted “yes” in support of the amendment. The same referendum was also on the 2008 general election, where it was  narrowly defeated with 6,137 supporting the measure and 6,159 opposing it.

The Fono this year made no effort to educate the public on this issue, despite calls by lawmakers for the Fono leadership to hold public awareness and education programs to ensure that the referendum would be approved this year.

On the other hand, the American Samoa Power Authority board of directors and management wrote a three page memo to “the ASPA family & community” to vote “no” on the referendum. The undated memo was apparently distributed last week and reinforcement from ASPA management to vote “no” went out on Monday, the day before Tuesday’s election.

The Fono and ASPA have been battling each other for some two years now, especially when ASPA board and management claim that it’s the ASPA board that has the authority to approve the ASPA annual budget, rather than the Fono.

“On the surface, this issueseems somewhat harmless and having no adverse impact as it transfers power from the U.S. Department of the Interior to the Fono,” according to the memo. “But, is this really a good idea?”

The memo alleges that one of the underlying reasons why certain members of the Fono are seeking this authority is to exert political control over ASPA; “and we all know what happens when important utility functions are politically controlled.”

“There are members of the Fono who would like to exert budgetary control over the ASPA. There are also special interests in the Fono who have requested that certain activities of the ASPA be restructured and ‘outsourced’,” it says.

According to the memo, ASPA as a multi‐function utility is saving the people money by operating five utility services in one authority.

The memo went on to point out, among other things, that the Fono has not paid their utility bills for the past three years, but the people have to pay; the Fono could have appropriated the funds to pay the utility payments but has chosen not to and this “is a reason why the ASPA has raised its rates in the past.”

“Today the government debt to ASPA is $9.6 million” and the “Fono should appropriate these funds,” it says, adding that if the  government does not pay them, then ASPA will need to generate revenue from other customers or the whole system will fail.

The memo also accused the Fono of not appropriating funds to ASPA in accordance with current law in which ASG provides subsidies to the authority for waste water service. It says that the government now owes ASPA some $10.6 million in this subsidy.

“If the Fono would appropriate the amounts due to the ASPA, then, the ASPA would not have had to raise the rates,” the memo states.

According to the memo, the potential impact of supporting the proposed amendment may be that ASPA becomes subject to the political decision making of the Fono.

Additionally, a majority of the Fono members “are not versed in the complex operations of a utility and their decisions are more personal, and can have severe and negative impacts on sustaining service.”

“If that happens, then, there may be a return to higher prices, no money to buy fuel, and a forced return to rolling blackouts,” the memo says. “This will not only be devastating to our customers, but will negatively impact our fragile economy. Many other island utilities are struggling with political intervention and ASPA is doing its best to not fall into that same trap.”

“Would you trust the Fono to be FAIR, JUST AND REASONABLE when disagreements arise? We believe: NO/LEAI,” the memo concluded.