AMERICAN SAMOA BUYS $18,500 SAUNA FOR GOVERNOR

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (February 18, 1998 - Samoa News)---What would the Department of Education (DOE) want from Doc's Gym that would cost $18,500?

That question was answered, along with several others, yesterday morning when DOE officials appeared before the House Education Committee to explain why tax funds that were specifically earmarked to repair public school buildings were used for other purposes.

"What did the DOE purchase from Doc's Gym that cost $18,500?" asked Rep. Malaetasi Togafau. "Was it for any of the schools?"

DOE Business Office Program Manager Paul Solofa told the Committee that the purchase was for materials to be used in the Governor's exercise room at Mauga o Ali'i, his official residence.

Further questioning prompted Solofa to reluctantly admit that the materials purchased from Doc's Gym last July were actually to be used to build a sauna (or steam room) for Governor Tauese Sunia.

A DOE purchase order made out to Doc's Gym shows that $15,000 was paid out for unidentified "materials and supplies" and $3,500 was paid out for "electrical designs and plumbing equipment."

Solofa told the committee that the Governor's Office had requested funds from the 1% excise tax account to purchase the sauna and that the Governor's Office will pay back the account once they have money to do so.

The DOE's Deputy Director of Business Administration, Tupuivao Mekiafa Vaifanua, confirmed that he had received the request from the Governor's Office for the funds to pay for the sauna.

"We negotiated then that the Governor's Office will repay the account back when they have the money," Tupuivao recalled. "And they have since re-paid the amount in full."

Amazingly, no one asked Tupuivao when the re-payment was made to DOE. Nor was he asked if the Governor's Office made any other such requests for temporary loans.

Committee Chairman, Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele, told Tupuivao that approving such a purchase with tax funds that were intended for school building repairs "is not justifiable and you should be replaced!"

Tupuivao was unable to prove the reimbursement from the Governor's Office during the hearing and the Committee has ordered him to provide all the paperwork that documents the transaction between the DOE and the Governor's Office, including the reimbursement to the DOE's 1% excise tax account.

"I am very disappointed to find out that money from this fund is being spent while I, for one, continue to ask the DOE for more improvements to our schools and Dr. Tagoilelagi always gives me the same answer--we have no money for that," declared Rep. Manila Launiu.

"The school buildings in my district are deteriorating, roofs are leaking, there are no screens," he continued. "And here we have a sauna that was purchased for the Governor! Doesn't the Governor's Office and the DOE care about our schools anymore?"

The Committee did not immediately decide its next course of action on this issue.

Stories from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to samoanews@samoatelco.com

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