House tells ASG officials to account for surplus funds already used
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — After the House moved on Wednesday to postpone a second reading of the administration bill appropriating $36 million in surplus funds for Fiscal Year 2023, ASG Treasurer and the Budget Director appeared before the House Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Treasurer Malemo Tausaga was asked to provide a full accounting of expenditures paid with the surplus funds and he and Budget Director, Cathy Saelua, appeared before the committee on Wednesday morning to explain the $36 million surplus, as well as the $22 million appropriations bill using surplus funds from Fiscal Year 2022.
“The $36 million surplus has already been used,” said Treasurer Malemo and apologized to the committee while agreeing with statements made by House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui, Jr. and Faipule Larry Sanitoa that “the spending of these funds without approval of the Fono has violated the law.”
According to Malemo, “They are well aware of the law but the need to use the funds was to respond quickly to emergency needs hence why they did not come to the Fono first to get approval.” The Treasurer referred specifically to escape routes and roads in Manu’a and Tutuila, and also spoke of local matches for the Medicaid office.
The ASG officials were told that any excess funds should be submitted to the Fono to be appropriated, and while the House appreciates that the executive branch has implemented many needed infrastructure projects, the law must be followed.
“The $36 million was such a huge amount of money and I’m shocked that the administration would spend the surplus without even letting the Fono know,” said Fetui to Malemo.
Fetui further conveyed to Malemo and Budget Director Saelua they were veteran ASG employees, and are well versed with budget procedures, and queried why the Fono leaders were not informed.
“Money is the root of all evil and we do not accept this violation of the budget law,” stated Fetui in conclusion to his query.
House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale then asked the ASG officials to submit a list of projects that were paid with the surplus funds, while Sanitoa said, “The administration has put the Fono in a difficult position, and the spending of excess funds without the Fono’s approval is a sure violation of the budget law.”
Faipule Ape Mike Asifoa said he had always looked up to Malemo, but now “he is losing sleep— not out of concern for his district, but for the territory in the face of this spending without authorization from the Fono.”
The $36 million surplus was on the calendar for second reading on Wednesday, however, the majority of House members voted to postpone a vote pending further review of the bill.
Meanwhile, the House approved in second reading a bill appropriating $22 million of surplus money from Fiscal Year 2022. The bill includes funding to pay for the office expense allowance increase for the Fono, plus 8 other budget items.
The House of Representatives approved the Senate amendment of the administration bill, changing the salary increase for the Fono to an increase for the office expense allowances instead.
Samoa News points out that the increase of the office expense allowance for the Legislature, if passed, will be an ongoing liability. The source they are looking at using to pay it from, is a one-time source — the FY 2022 surplus. When the FY 2022 surplus is spent, from where is the increase going to be funded?
The $36 million for FY2023, is identified as revenue in excess of the FY 2023 budget — and is defined under law as “unobligated and unexpended revenues”.
The law — AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE APPROPRIATION-OF THE AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2023 AND FOR AN EARLY EFFECTIVE DATE — reads in part:
“Unbudgeted revenue-Identification and appropriation — In the event that the American Samoa Government, or any agency thereof, received during Fiscal Year 2023 revenue from any source not included in the source of projected revenue identified in this act or which exceed the projection of any revenue source identified herein, such revenue shall be deemed unbudgeted revenue.
“It shall be deposited into the gey,.eral [sic] fund and be available for immediate appropriation by the Legislature without waiting for the end of the fiscal year.
“Unbudgeted revenue received during Fiscal Year 2023 shall not be expended for any purpose unless first authorized and appropriated by the Legislature. The Governor shall notify the Legislature promptly upon receipt of unbudgeted revenue.”
Of note: While it’s been established that the money, the $36 million, has already been spent, and it was supposed to be set aside and appropriated, there are also two other issues at hand — FY 2023 is still ongoing, it’s last day is Sept. 30, 2023, and the $36 million is an unaudited number.
The question then becomes is the $36 million a ‘real’ number? It could be $36 dollars or $36 billion or a loss of $1 dollar. Until its financials are audited for FY 2023, no one really knows.