CONCERN OVER AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT FUNDS

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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 9, 1998 - Samoa News)---Why has the government run out of money only five months into the current fiscal year?

What's going on with the fiscal year 1998 budget?

Why are working hours reduced for American Samoa Government (ASG) employees?

The House Budget Committee hopes these questions and others will be answered when Treasurer Tifimalae Ale and Budget Director Opa Joe Iuli appear at a committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

In a televised speech last Thursday night, Governor Tauese Sunia announced that he was ordering the vast majority of ASG workforce to take an involuntary 25% reduction in work hours and pay.

The reduced work week went into effect and will last until further notice.

Treasury officials expect the action will reduce the government's $3 million pay roll (every two weeks) by $550,000 (18%).

The hearing was called after Rep. Su'emalo Alamoana Mulitauaopele, who is also the Budget committee chairman, first raised the concerns over the reduction in working hours for ASG employees.

"But I was just as surprised as anyone else, reading the newspaper on Friday, that the governor plans to implement a reduction of working hours, effective immediately.

"The Fono does not know why these measures were taken by the Governor and I for one would like to know as my constituents are very concerned over this matter."

Rep. Lavea Sealiitu Mauga quickly echoed the concern and called on the Fono to help find a solution to the financial problem which is causing ASG workers to suffer.

Rep. Su'emalo Seti Lopa supports the call for ASG to explain why such drastic measures have been taken. He also called on the Fono's leadership to "implement similar measures at the Fono."

(The Governor's order does not affect the Legislative or Judicial branches of government.)

"We can start by cutting working hours at the Legislative Branch and freezing all travel," he added. The ideas were supported by Rep. Puaopea Paopao, who added, "We should all carry the same burden."

Rep. Moananu Va reminded his colleagues that this is not the first time a Governor has implemented a reduction of working hours, but the Fono's leadership should be working closely with the Tauese Administration to find solutions.

He also requested that the Administration submit to the Fono a detailed report of the last six months of government spending.

Rep. Solomona Mailo said ASG employees should have been given ample warning time of a work hours reduction so workers could prepare themselves.

Rep. Muavaefaatasi Ae, Jr. added that he was shocked to read in the newspaper about the reduction in work hours, especially as "I keep seeing new hires in the government. My concern is that the minimum wageearners are the ones that will be greatly affected by this," he added. "The government should concentrate on cutting the salaries of high-level people and leave the small income earners alone."

Speaker Mailo Sao Nua confirmed that there has been no communication from the Governor regarding his plans to reduce working hours, and the Fono leadership does not have the answers to the many concerns voiced by the faipules and the public.

He than called on the Budget Committee to hold a hearing before the 45-day session adjourns on Friday.

Rep. Agaoleatu Charlie Tautolo called on the Speaker to re-consider his decision. "This is your responsibility as the leader of the House to communicate with the Governor, not a Committee's job," he stated, noting also that a reduction of working hours is nothing new.

"True, the Fono approved the budget for ASG, but if there is a shortfall, it's something that will happen," he added.

Speaker Mailo reminded the full House again that there was no communication from the Governor before he addressed the public and informed them of his actions.

"The time of communication between the two branches of government no longer exists," he noted. "The governor made his public announcement without forewarning the Fono leadership."

Speaker Mailo later told the Samoa News that "I have no choice but to ask the Budget Committee to call in ASG officials to explain this urgent matter.

"House members have been getting phone calls from ASG employees and their families after the story was reported by the newspaper on Friday," he observed. "I didn't have any answers to their questions and I'm sure the same goes for other faipules."

Asked if he will order a reduction in working hours for House staff, Speaker Mailo said, "Neither the House nor the entire Fono's FY 1998 budget is in the red and I see no reason right now to take such drastic measures."

Speaker Mailo also stated that he is watching the House budget carefully to make sure it does not overrun.

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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