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Saelua’s confirmation for Budget Director unanimously approved

Budget Director Catherine Saelua

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Catherine Saelua is now serving her third consecutive term as head of the American Samoa Government (ASG) Budget Office, a position she held for the 8 years of the Lolo-Lemanu Administration — after her nomination was approved by the Fono this week.

The House approved Saelua by a vote of 17-0 while the Senate by a vote of 18-0. Confirmation votes are by secret ballot.

Saelua appeared before the House Budget and Appropriate Committee Tuesday morning for her confirmation hearing. Families and staff members gathered at the house chamber to show support.

During the hearing, several House faipule gave their endorsement of Saelua as Budget Director, and expressed confidence in her abilities and praised her leadership noting the positive financial position of ASG. The hearing was chaired by Committee chairman Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi.

Rep. Vailoata Amituana’i asked if Saelua had appointed new deputy directors. The director nominee said she has made no changes.

Rep. Avagafono Vaimaga Maiava told the committee that the witness is not new to him. They worked together for many years while he was working at the Department of Public Safety (DPS). He recommended that Saelua take a close look at the Fire Bureau, a division of DPS. For many years now, the Fire Bureau continues to face the problem of a shortage of manpower.

Avagafono, retired as a former deputy commissioner told Saelua it’s about time to consider an Academy for the Fire Division to solve the manpower problem.

Saole Rep. Titialii Kitara Vaiau asked if the 2% wage tax still exists. Saelua said, yes. Titiali’i said the wage tax is a burden to people with low income and it’s about time to halt it.

Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr said Saelua was his relative and that he has confidence in her but that there are things with which he is not happy regarding the treatment of the Fono by the executive branch in the past.

He said the three branches of government operate independently under the separation of powers doctrine and the Fono controls its own budget.

He noted that in the past, requests by the Fono have been stalled or disapproved by the Budget Office. Fetu advised that as long as there is money to cover the Fono’s expenditures, there’s no reason why their requests should be rejected.

The vice speaker warned Saelua that if this happens again he will vote to have her removed. The vice speaker also asked Saelua if she was in good health. She replied that she was.

Saelua spent several weeks in New Zealand as a Medicaid patient two years ago, though no information was made available about her medical condition.

Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen also had advice for the cabinet nominee. He said that as soon as directors are confirmed, they forget the House members and don’t even say hello when they meet.

“The only time they’ll smile and be friendly with us is when they need our vote for confirmation but as soon as they’re confirmed it’s like they don’t know us,” said Faimealelei. He then echoed the vice speaker’s concerns about Fono expenditures being held up by the Budget Office.

He reminded the nominee that the Fono is one of the three branches of the government and whenever the Fono needs funding to take care its business, there is no reason why the administration should hold it.

Vailiuama advised Saelua to respond to the Fono requests if there is funding to cover the expenditures. He said the Fourth Quarter Report showed several departments and agencies with over spent budgets.

Fofo Rep Andra Tereise Samoa spoke about Saelua’s character. She said Saelua is a faithful and a godly leader who is loved by many people.

Saelua thanked the Vice Speaker, chair of the Budget and Appropriations Committee Rep. Vailiuama, who conducted her confirmation hearings and its members for their endorsement and advice.

She explained that the role of her office is to ensure that all expenditures are covered and in the event that there is no money or not enough to meet requests they will always try to find an alternate source of revenue to meet them.