Fono holds confirmation hearings and fields complaints
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Acting Treasurer Malemo Tausaga during his confirmation hearing before House Ways and Means Committee this week highlighted a few issues regarding the status of the ASG economy.
He said that according to the First Quarter of this Fiscal Year 2021 (FY2021), the ASG economy is relatively strong providing a firm backdrop for a good collection period, adequate to offset operating expenses.
For the issue of the second stimulus package, he further stated that discussion between his staff and IRS saying the second round of stimulus is completed and they received $26 million last week.
Several representatives told the witness they don’t have any questions because they already reviewed his qualifications and experience — he is qualified for the post. Serving in the government for 42 years, Rep. Avagafono Vaimaga Maiava told Malemo that he’s one of the solid leaders for the current administration and the young sons and daughters of Tutuila and Manu’a will look up to him and follow in his footsteps.
Rep. Lua’itaua Gene Pan suggested to the witness to set aside funds to cover tax refunds checks and to avoid the problem of keeping the tax filers waiting for almost two months to receive their refund checks.
Lua’itaua said this is one of the problems tax filers faced in the past years during tax season. Last year, the first refund checks for tax year 2019 were released on the first week of March. For 2019, the first refund checks for tax year 2018 didn’t come out until April 12, 2019 and then only for local refunds not the ACTC (Additional Child Tax Credit) which was put on hold until mid May 2019 due to changes in the federal 2017 Tax Cut and Job Acts that modified the law regarding the ACTC claims.
FAIMEALELEI SAYS LAWMAKERS DESERVE SPECIAL TREATMENT
Several faipule believe that lawmakers must receive special treatment.
Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu’e Allen said that faipule should receive special treatment and must be given first priority for vaccinations in a special place instead of sitting outside in the sun under the tent with members of the public waiting to be vaccinated.
He believes that lawmakers must be treated differently from members of the public because they are leaders of the government and they deserve respect.
The Vice Speaker who led the House Session last Friday disagreed. He said that lawmakers are servants and their call is to serve the people not to be served by the people.
During the House Health Committee hearing with members of the COVID-19 Task Force, Faimealelei raised the issue again. He said that the Task Force must set up a special time for representatives and senators to be vaccinated.
Motusa T. Nua, Acting director of the Department of Public Health and a member of the task force told members of the committee that the door is open for anyone who wants to be vaccinated. He further stated that senators had already received their first dose of the vaccine on Monday this week.
BE CAREFUL ON ISSUES RAISED DURING HEARINGS
Speaker of the House, Hon. Savali Talavou Ale has strongly advised representatives to be very careful on issues they bring up during committee hearing because the government officials and members of the public might think that lawmakers don’t understand the law.
Savali’s comments came after Rep. Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi and Rep. Lavea Fatulegaee P. Mauga told Acting Treasurer Malemo Tausaga during his confirmation hearing to halt taking federal deductions from the $30,000 allowance checks for faipule.
According to Vailiuama, the fono allowances are not income and since it’s locally funded — the IRS should not be involved. Vailiuama who first brought up the issue told Malemo that the allowances are now considered as income.
Lavea said that the allowance is not “income” and the IRS shouldn’t get involved. He strongly supported Vailiuama’s call to halt the practice.
Savali addressed the issue after the hearing — Malemo had already left the House chamber. He told representatives to be very careful on issues they bring up during committee hearings. He reminded faipule that the law is clear and it’s already there for them to review.
He said he doesn’t want issues like this discussed in the House chamber because government officials might think that they don’t understand the law, despite the fact they are lawmakers.
Savali explained that under federal law, if the person has “additional income” FICA and Medicare must be paid by deductions from the additional income. A lawmaker's office allowance is considered additional income by the IRS. Moreover, it will also help with Social Security benefits in the future.
The allowance checks show federal deductions are being made: FICA, which is 6.2% and Medicare at 1.45%. The deduction has reduced the take home allowance check amount for lawmakers.
Under local law, a lawmakers’ office allowance — $30,000 annually for each lawmaker and $40,000 annually for the Senate President and the House Speaker — is to defray expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of their official duties. The law also states that an accounting of the expenditures incurred by the member is not required.
While the allowance is not considered income and therefore is not taxed, the lawmaker can — if he/ she chooses to — designate the allowance as income, making it taxable.
Samoa News understands that there are lawmakers who have agreed to claim their allowance as income. Allowance checks are released every two weeks, during non-pay week for ASG. For example, next week is not pay week for ASG so allowance checks will be released for lawmakers next week.
Under local law, the annual salary of the Senate President and House Speaker is $30,000 each and other lawmakers earn $25,000, with the Swains Island Delegate getting $20,000.
One lawmaker told Samoa News that the FICA and Medicare deductions from allowance checks are also to protect lawmakers so they don’t have to file an expense report at the end of every year as required by federal law for additional income earned.
CLAIMS OF MISTREATMENT BY SOME ACTING DIRECTORS
Complaints from several ASG Departments concerning the unfair treatment of employees by some of the Lemanu and Talauega admin’s new directors has reached the Fono this week.
Vaifanuatele Rep. Lavea Fatulegaee Mauga raised the matter during this week’s House Session. The matter was also raised again in the House chamber by Vice Speaker of the House, Fetui Fetui Jr during yesterday’s House Session.
Lavea said during the Tuesday House session that he was contacted by some government employees regarding a few new directors who used their authority as government leaders to mistreat other employees. According to Lavea the complaints are not from just one department but from several. He said he has advised those affected to be patient and to leave their concerns with the Fono.
Fetui Jr echoed Lavea’s statement. He said it’s his observation that the new leaders of departments and agencies have taken the wrong approach. He said they should have called a meeting to discuss something they needed to address instead of using this wrong approach.
Rep. Faimealelei said he has received the same complaints. He too, has counseled those concerned to exercise patience and also assured them that their faipule will address their concerns. He advised the new key appointed directors to proceed slowly and with caution and to not rush their changes.
Speaker of the House, Savali Talavou Ale said confirmation hearings provide a forum to raise these issues.