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House members overwhelmingly disagree with Senate’s move to extend session days

 Fetu Fetui Jr,

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A Senate Joint Resolution, seeking to amend the Constitution to allow for year-long sitting of the Legislature instead of the current two-45 session days a year, was discussed during a House hearing yesterday morning.

During the hearing, many representatives (faipule) strongly opposed the senate concurrent resolution.

The hearing was chaired by Vice Speaker of the House, Fetu Fetui Jr, who is the chairman of the House Rules Committee.

During the hearing, Rep. Vaetasi Saena Tuumolimoli Moliga acknowledged senators for their effort to make amendments to the Constitution for the betterment of the legislature, however, he pointed out that the current situation with the Constitution is fine with him.

Despite the fact that the legislature meets 90 days a year, the role of senators and faipule is for the whole year.

“Being the representative for my constituency is not an easy task because you have a lot of obligations to fulfill for my district,” Vaetasi said, adding that “After the 90-day of session, representatives use the rest of the year to do other duties for their constituency.”

Rep. Vesi’ai Samuel Poyer echoed Vaetasi’s statement. He said the system the Fono uses is based on the system of how the US Congress runs.

He pointed out that the US Congress has a lot of work to do but they don’t have their session for the whole year. In fact, the United States of American is way bigger than American Samoa, with a small population of 70,000.

Vesi’ai also stated that Fono leaders should not base their decision to amend the Constitution on the complaints from members of the public about the Fono’s latest pay raises.

He believes that Fono members deserve pay raises and this should have been done long time ago but he’s thankful that it happened during the first session of this legislature.

Vesi’ai also stated that the American Samoa legislators receive the lowest pay per year compared to other Legislatures in the Pacific.

“People might think that the reason why the Fono wanted to amend the. Constitution and add session days is because they just received their pay raise since they only work for 90 days a year. This is not true, a legislators’s job is for the whole year,” Vesi’ai said.

Rep. Lavea Fatulegaee Palepoi Mauga supported the idea that the current session days for both chambers is not a problem at all.

New members of the House, Reps. Alumamalu Filoialii Ale and Ape Mike Asifoa did not offer any thoughts about the subject but said that their time will come to voice their opinion about this sensitive issue.

Alumamalu said that it been a year since he’s taken up the post and he’s still in a learning mode. He wanted to pay more attention to issues like this so that he can get a better understanding while veteran members of the House are voicing their opinion.

He said that if he’s re-elected by his constituency in the upcoming election and returns for a second term that will be the right time for him to voice his opinion regarding this issue.

Asifoa said he needs more time to observe and do more work for his constituency while he has the opportunity to serve his district.

Rep. Lua’itaua Gene Pan stated that a faipule is a person who works for 24 hours a day — 7 days a week. He also stated that a faipule is a person who responds whenever his constituency needs him and he also answers his phone whenever a person calls for help — including late at night.

Vaetasi said that legislators can not build and pass new laws unless they go out to their constituency to work together with them and get their opinion  in an effort to built up new legislation for the betterment of the people of American Samoa.

He also stated that the governor has the power under the Constitution to call a special session if he feels that an important issue is coming up.

Fetu was the only one who supported the senate changes. He stated that there are times things happen in the government, which affects the lives of the people while the Fono is not in session. However, if the Fono had its session for the whole year, senators and faipule will have the time to respond to the people’s requests or any issues pertaining to the betterment of the government.

After the committee discussion, the senate resolution is now back to the committee for further hearings and discussion.

According to the joint resolution’s preamble, the Legislature finds that the 90-days per year (which is two 45-session days) is not enough time to complete all of the work they are faced with especially since the Executive and Judicial branches work year-round.

It explains that a year-long regular session meeting, with each Legislative term lasting for two years, will allow the Legislature more time to complete the work they must do. It also serves to raise the standing of the legislature, thereby helping to check the flow of power to the Executive branch.

Additionally, continuing Legislative oversight of the administration becomes more reasonable with year-long sessions and that administrative accountability of the execution of legislative policies would also be more easily enforced.

Furthermore, the extended time in office and the ability to devote their time to issues allows Legislators to perform their duties more effectively — allowing adequate time for debate and hearings between the legislators and the public.

“This will ensure the decision-making process to be more informed,” the preamble said, noting the Legislature is made up of the people and for the people of American Samoa and “it is the duty of the legislature to perform in its highest capacity in service to the people by extending session days.”

Instead of two-regular sessions of the Fono each year, the joint resolution seeks to amend the constitution to reflect “one” regular session “lasting a year and scheduled jointly by both Houses” and that “neither House may adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other House.” And the session begins on the second Monday in January every year.

If approved by the Senate and House, the joint resolution requests that the governor submit the amendments in the joint resolution to the voters in this year‘s general election in November 2022.