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DHSS payroll manager removed from post and assigned to front desk

Muavaefaatasi John Edward Suisala
Nothing personal in move, Muavaefaatasi says

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Director of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) Muavaefaatasi John Edward Suisala said that the only personnel change made in the department after the file containing documents related to the non profit organization with which he’s involved was leaked to the public, including Samoa News — was not personal.

He explained the change as a “temporarily assignment” of duties for the Payroll Manager/ Procurement Officer to cover the front desk until a more suitable role is identified for that specific employee.

Despite his statement that the change was not personally motivated, several DHSS employees described the director’s action as unfair, personal and also based on unconfirmed allegations against the affected employee. Furthermore, they said the change is a clear move to demote the employee from her role as a Payroll Manager to front desk receptionist.

Last month Samoa News received two files containing copies of documents concerning the non-profit organization — Center of Families of Individuals with Development Disabilities (CFIDD) claiming a conflict of interest and improprieties since the DHSS director, Muavaefa’atasi is also the director of the non profit.

Samoa News understands that these are the same files that showed up in the fono in February and were hand delivered to the Governor at the beginning of this year in an effort to inform the governor about the alleged misuse of grant funding in the department.

Of the personnel change for the Payroll Manager, Muavaefaatasi said an employee who has been the back-up for the Payroll Manager for the past several years is now taking over those duties.

 “I informed her that it was brought to our attention for some time now by some of our own employees (in the Director’s Office and other divisions) that she told them how she planned to smear my name before my confirmation hearings to make sure I will not return as DHSS Director,” Muavaefaatasi explained to Samoa News when asked about the reason behind the change.

Despite his strong denial that the change was not personal, Muavaefaatasi’s statement appears to reveal a “personal” motivation.

Muavaefaatas said that he heard rumors that this specific employee provided the files of documents to smear his name to the Fono, the Governor’s Office, the FBI and the media and that she had asked Samoa News to run the article a day before his confirmation hearing.

[Samoa News points out the first file containing documents regarding CFIDD was circulated in the House Chamber just before Muavaefa’atasi’s confirmation hearing last month and that’s how Samoa News was able to obtain a copy of the file.)

“I told her that the false accusations she made has not only destroyed my name and integrity but also the names and integrity of CFIDD, DHSS management and staff and other people whose names are on the documents she circulated.

“Because of that, I have no more trust in her to represent and speak on behalf of DHSS and myself when routing paperwork for payroll and procurement of goods and services,” said Muavaefaatasi regarding a meeting between himself, his deputy directors and the employee that is affected to discuss the issue regarding the files leaked to the public.

“This action is also necessary to put a stop to her continuing to go from department to department perpetuating the falsehood about me and the department.

“I informed her that we need to move on with the business of serving our people and in order to do so we need to be courteous and respectful to each other and to work as a team.

“I also told her that I have forgiven her and those who helped her with this smear campaign and I have been praying for the Lord to forgive them and to bless them and their families,” he said.

Muavaefaatasi also stressed that although he has been courteous and respectful towards the employee and everyone who helped her from day one and will continue to do so, he wants to make sure that she understands that he lost trust in her to represent the department and himself and reassured her that “time will eventually restore that trust”.

At the end of the meeting, Muavaefaatasi said he told the employee that he hoped she understands why he must take this action right away — to temporarily reassign her to the front desk until he finds suitable duties for her to perform.

“In fact, she was also informed that she will be covering the front desk for now since our receptionist will start working for the next two weeks at the ASWIC Division to try out for an accounting clerk position at the request of the ASWIC Finance Branch Manager. If she does not work out after two weeks, she will return to the front desk and hopefully by then, we will find a suitable role for her (the reassigned employee),” he said.

When the employee was given a chance to speak, Muavaefaatasi said she immediately denied any involvement in what has been going on and denied any knowledge of any file that was reported in the news.

“She told us that she was so disappointed when she heard that she has been accused of doing this when she has nothing to do with it. She also claimed many times that the Lord is her witness that she knows nothing of this and she would never be involved in something like this because she is a deacon in her church and she takes that role seriously,” Muavaefaatasi said.

The DHSS director said that the action that he took last week Tuesday to reassign her from routing payroll and procurement paperwork to covering at the front desk was definitely not personal in nature — nor illegal.

“If it was personal, I would have ignored her or treated her poorly and differently from others. However, she would be the first person to tell you that from the first day I met her in the office since I returned from Honolulu (which was the first day after I got fully confirmed by the Fono as she was on leave during my confirmation hearings), I hugged her and greeted her cordially and with a smile, then I sat down with her along with a new employee whom I also just met and we had a very pleasant and respectful conversation,” the director said.

He added, “If this was personal, I would have immediately moved her out of the Director’s Office and assigned her to another division. If this was personal, the action would have been of a more serious nature instead of assigning her to cover the front desk for now.”

Finally, Muavaefaatasi said he finds it very disappointing that these disgruntled employees continue to engage in a smear campaign to destroy his reputation and integrity at a time when the department has so much to do to improve the lives of our people. He also said that he finds it sad that he’s spending so much time clearing his name when focus should always be on the big picture.

For example two weeks ago a plan was submitted to spend $12.7 million to double the number of children served in child care settings, increase the number of daycare centers including providers offering services after hours for people working nightshifts; increase subsidy rates for daycare providers and much more.

 He further stated that the department also submitted last Thursday a proposal to temporarily increase the value of monthly food stamp coupons for over 4,400 recipients of the ASNAP and COVID- NAP programs for the next seven months at a cost of $2.4 million.

“We are also working closely with DOE to develop a plan to implement a Pandemic EBT program to issue food coupons to school children when schools are closed or on hybrid schedule due to the pandemic.

“We have a joint project with the Department of Health and our stakeholders to develop a territorial strategic plan for suicide prevention and response as well as establishing and operating two 9-8-8 call centers that will be ready and able to save lives.

“These are just a few examples of the immediate work that we really need to focus on instead of spending time trying to clear a falsehood that is unfortunately perpetrated by just a few of our own employees,” he concluded.