Two more directors confirmed
Another pair of cabinet appointees — Le’i Sonny Thompson as Police Commissioner and Catherine Dora Aigamaua Saelua as Budget and Planning Office director — were officially confirmed by the Fono, last Friday.
The Senate in separate unanimous ‘yea’ votes of 16-0 handed final decisions down last Friday for both Le’i and Saelua; while last week Thursday, the House endorsed Le’i in a unanimous 18-0 vote, while Saelua was confirmed in a 15-3 vote.
Le’i and Saelua went through separate confirmation hearings last Friday morning in the Senate while the House confirmation process was early last week.
Le’i fielded many questions during the confirmation process and among them is drug testing for police officers, an issue that has been raised many times over the years, and gained momentum in the last two years with allegations spreading that some officers are involved in drugs.
And Sen. Alo Fa’auuga raised the allegation that police officers are involved with drugs in connection with the Le Aute business. Alo said the allegations are that police are “buddy-buddy” with those at Le Aute and asked if this is true, to which Le’i responded that he doesn’t know, but acknowledged he has received similar allegations.
Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai sought Le’i’s views on drug testing for police officers. Le’i first explained that during his first two weeks at the Public Safety Department, he called a meeting with Chief of Customs Moetulu’i Sipili Fuiava, head of the local US Post Office, and attorneys with the Attorney General’s Office to discuss several issues, which included drug testing for emergency or first responders from DPS.
He said the matter involved in drug testing is the “individual’s rights” and this was address during the meeting in which attorneys with the AG’s Office said that drug testing is not an easy issue, but it can be done.
However, he said the implementation of drug testing, which would require approval of the Fono through appropriate legislation, should not be used to prosecute a worker if the results come back positive. He says the suggestion at the meeting was for drug testing for first responders, such as officers with the DPS Criminal Investigation Division and the Traffic Division.
While he is not against it, Le’i said the issue requires thorough review to ensure the rights of individuals are protected if drug testing is implemented.
Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua asked about the “morale” in the police force, saying that he believes “morale is low.”
Le’i didn’t give a direct reply, but said that he is very respectful of those who have been in the same post, including Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean (who attended the confirmation hearing) and other senators, such as Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Mau Jr., who served in the department in the past and faced many challenges then.
He went on to say that there is no respect for police officers by the public compared to years ago. For example, a driver would be tailgating on the road, despite knowing that police are around. Another example of disrespect cited by Le’i was an incident two weeks ago where a police vehicle was stoned at least three times. Le’i didn’t give details on the incident and or whether any suspects were apprehended.
He went on to point out that DPS fiscal year 2017 budget shows just over $4 million in local revenues and $503,000 in federal grants, while the department has a police force of 122 — and seven of them are high ranking position, such as commanders.
Minus the seven high-ranking officers, that leaves an actual police force of only 115 officers serving the community on a daily basis, he said. If compared to the estimated population of 60,000 that means one officer per more than 500 people. If one thinks about 500 people at the Fagatogo malae, and only one officer on duty, that’s just too many people for one officer.
Le’i, who served as Human Resources Department director for the last four years, says the pay scale and rank of officers— starting from police officer I and up to commander, is “all off” and needs to be corrected.
He says rank and pay scale should be established by law, so that it’s not changed and he is looking at proposing such a measure for review by the governor before it’s sent to the Fono.
Le’i was praised by senators for his plans to review pay scale and ranks of police officers. During the House hearing, he was also asked to look into the pay of officers, who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.
Later on during hearing which lasted for almost 90 minutes, Tuaolo picked up on Nuanuaolefeagaiga’s question on police officers morale being low. Tuaolo said the “morale is low” and don’t hide it.
Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, a military retiree — like Le’i — said the usual motto in the US military is “take care of soldiers” and when that motto applies to police, “take care of officers”. He said top leaders usually forget the lower ranks — police officer or a private — and focus on the higher ranks, which are not out in the field carrying out the work.
He said the lower ranks are the ones who hit the streets every day, dealing with the public, and they should be given utmost importance because if they are good, so is the police force.
Gaoteote thanked Le’i for making pay scale for officers an important issue. He said that when a police officer goes to work in the morning that officer is giving his or her life in the line of duty and that is very important.
Samoa News will report this week on the many other matters raised during Le’i’s confirmation hearings in the Senate and House.
It was revealed during Saelua’s confirmation hearing that payouts for directors who served the first four-years of the Lolo Administration are being processed while federal funding for the Territorial Administration of Aging (TAOA) hot meal program has been placed on restrictions.
Fiscal year 2017 budget includes $1 million to cover payouts of political appointees, which includes directors, who were all required to resign before the end of the first term of the administration.
Responding to Sen. Tuiagamoa Tavai’s inquiry, Saelua said the payouts for (resigned) directors are with the Governor’s Office and processing has started. She says the delay is because some didn’t file their expense report and other minor issues. She says total payouts do not reach $500,000.
Sen. Levu Tulafono Solaita said he has received word from some vendors of the TAOA hot meal program that they have not received payment for about six months, but continue to provide the service.
The appointee confirmed that this is true and explained that the federal grantor has placed some restrictions on the program because of certain reports not submitted.
Saelua, who has been in government service for more than 30 years, said the restrictions are making it difficult for drawdown of funds and therefore local revenue is subsidizing the hot meal program, as TAOA works to resolve reporting issues with the grantor.
Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean informed Saelua that she is one of the directors disliked very much by other directors because during preparation of the annual budget “you tell directors as to ceiling of their budget for the next fiscal year.”
“You are disliked but you’re doing your job, as directed by the governor,” said Tuaolo, who, noted that many women have been appointed to cabinet posts, to head some of the major departments in government — for example, Education Department, Port Administration, Budget Office and Office of Procurement.
“This is a sign that the governor trusts women in leadership posts,” he added.