Three faipule drop ASEDA lawsuit; Gov Lolo says “majority” rules
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The three House members who filed a lawsuit last year against the American Samoa Economic Development Authority (ASEDA) board of directors, over the agency’s spending of proceeds from the 2018 bond series without Fono approval will not seek reconsideration of the High Court’s decision.
And Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told cabinet members that the “new faipule” who filed the lawsuit are the only ones causing problems (using the word “vevesi” in Samoan) pertaining to the ASEDA law, and the trio should realize that it’s the “majority” that rules.
Focus of the lawsuit filed late September 2019 by Reps. Larry Sanitoa, Andra T. Samoa, and Vesaiai Poyer Samuelu, was the $50 million 2018 bond series issued by ASEDA, of which revenues were used for specific projects.
The High Court on Jan. 6, 2020 dismissed the lawsuit, pointing out — among other things — that plaintiffs “lack standing” in their suit, and the proper venue for the plaintiffs to address concerns regarding provisions of the ASEDA law is through the legislative process, not the court. (See Samoa News Jan. 10, 2020 edition for details).
Last Friday was the last day to file a motion of reconsideration on the ASEDA ruling, but the plaintiffs “decided not to,” the lawmakers said Wednesday night, responding to Samoa News inquiries.
In a joint statement, the faipule said that while they “are very disappointed with the outcome from the judicial review, we respect the decision of the court.”
They say the Judiciary plays an important role in overseeing the implementation of constitutional provisions and procedures by being the guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens.
“This is the part of the checks and balances that the three branches use in order to limit each other and ensure a balance of power,” they added.
According to the statement, when the Administration early this month informed the Fono that ASEDA did not have to submit a supplemental money bill explaining expenditures and appropriation of the $50 million bonds money, “we simply sought the advice of many legal professionals including the Fono attorneys, on whether ASEDA under the American Samoa Constitution has such authority.”
“We were told that the Legislature is the only branch explicitly granted the power to pass laws appropriating and enabling the expenditure of public funds by approving budgets submitted by the governor,” they continued.
They point out that the more than $50 million received in 2018 plus interest of $46 million amounted to over $96 million in total, and this amount was added to the more than $149.12 million in bonds from 2015 which brings the total debt in Bonds for the people of American Samoa to more than $245.81 million to be paid by generations to come for over 20 years.
The lawmakers express appreciation to their local private attorney, Thomas Bucky Jones and Associates for their hard work and commitment on the case. “We also thank our families and friends, especially our constituents who supported our intentions throughout the process.”
During the Jan. 10, 2020 cabinet meeting, Lolo commended Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale and his office on the outcome of the case. He recalled that he “was personally involved” in 1986 — when he was a House member — on getting the original language of the ASEDA law passed by the Fono. The ASEDA law was amended more than three years ago, with new provisions covering the latest bond issues.
Because of his personal knowledge and involvement in the ASEDA law, Lolo said when the lawsuit was filed, he informed the AG “not to worry about this case.
At least the court has given the chance to these new House members.”
He said Fono members such as House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, and Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, have been in “government long enough to understand what had happened in the past. Even the discussion of the first bond, there were questions, but we know it was all well taken care of [under amended provisions of the law].”
“I hope these new [House] members will learn something. We hope they learn that Democracy is all about majority. Whether [it’s] right or wrong, it’s all about majority. So if you are interested in politics, make sure you identify yourself with the majority,” he told cabinet members. “That’s how changes in the world are made, it’s through [the] majority.”
Lolo added that the “new faipule wanted to be independent on their own” taking this matter to court while the rest of the Fono didn’t. To cabinet members,
Lolo said, “Let’s help the new members in the Fono. Make sure if they ask for advice, provide it, as that is our job as leaders.”
(Samoa News notes that Sanitoa previously served in the House for several years and returned following the 2018 general election).