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By Fili Sagapolutele Special to the Pacific Islands Report

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (May 18, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---"What have you done to help the community college?" Governor Tauese Sunia challenged gubernatorial candidate Lealaifuaneva Peter Reid.

Tauese said that Senator Leala claims to be "pro-college" but he "was the strongest opponent" to the soda tax legislation, which the administration proposed to help pay two unfunded mandates: the government's annual subsidy to the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) and pay raises for police officers.

Speaking to students of the ASCC government class Tuesday, the Governor insisted that the Ma‘oputasi Senator is partly to blame for the failure of revenue measures he submitted to the Fono to fund ASCC, such as the soda tax.

Tauese claimed that Leala was protecting his soda business and concerned about his profits. But said the Governor, Leala was now claiming to be pro-ASCC, but that was not his position when the soda tax was proposed.

"What have you done to help the college?" the Governor asked of his challenger?

He added that Leala seemed to be talking from both sides of his mouth.

The Governor said he was a staunch supporter of ASCC and backed up his statement by pointing out that the college budget has been hiked by $1.9 million over the last three years.

When Senator Leala and running mate Afoa Moega Lutu spoke to the same college class last week, they said that the Tauese Administration is not following the public law which transformed ASCC into a semi-autonomous entity and pledged that if they are elected in November they will give the college their full subsidy. They even suggested the possibility of legal action if the college wanted to pursue the matter.

Financial Situation

The Governor said that ASG's financial status is an issue that is on his mind, when he eats "breakfast, lunch and dinner and even when I go to sleep." He invited students to ask questions about the government's financial status but when there were no takers, Tauese then explained his campaign platform and issues affecting the territory's future.

Tauese referred to the government's financial recovery as both an immediate and long-term issue and outlined his administration's accomplishments in this area. Tauese said that in the last three fiscal years (1997, 1998 and 1999) "we did not overspend the budget or increase the budget, but used figures based on FY1996 figures."

These are the same figures now being challenged by the Leala/Afoa team as "unrealistic." The Leala/Afoa team told college students last week that the annual budget is "unrealistic" and the government's finances have not been audited for several years.

Tauese's solution to resolving ASG's money problems is to "hold down spending, increase revenues and set a reasonable budget." His administration has been able to contain spending, said the Governor, but unfunded expenditures which have been set by law, such as ASG's annual subsidy to the college, have been an obstacle to staying within the budget limit.

Tauese said the move to make ASCC semi autonomous "was positive and aggressive" but lawmakers have failed to provide a source of revenue to pay for it. He told the students, what he has told the Fono and the media in the past, that the government has been unable to meet its obligations because of unfunded mandates.

Tauese noted that the public law that creates the independent status of ASCC calls for ASG to provide $2,820 per full time student. However, that goal has been difficult to meet because the Fono has not approved a revenue measure to fund the subsidy.

"No politician has the guts to correct this issue," Tauese remarked.

Although the Fono cut half a million dollars from the budgets of other ASG (American Samoa Government) agencies and allocated that money to ASCC, the governor said that's just a short term solution which will not the annual need of the territory's only institution of higher learning.

Tauese tried to correct this unfunded mandate by submitting legislation to the Fono that increases the soda tax from the current 4 cents to 17 cents.

The revenue would cover not only ASCC but also pay increases for police officers sworn in 1996.

The soda tax bill, later dubbed by the media as the "boxing match bill" after two Representatives almost got into a fist fighting over it, was passed by the House. The House reduced the tax hike from 17 cents to 10 cents but the bill did not survive in the Senate despite pleas from Senate President Lutu and Senator Faiivae A. Galeai to pass it. Senator Leala was off-island when the soda tax bill was debated in the Senate. When contacted yesterday, Leala declined to comment on the Governor's statements until after his team's official election kick-off on Saturday.

The Governor did acknowledge that the government's financial situation is in "bad shape" due to unfunded mandates but noted that the economy is thriving.

Governor Tauese said the Child Tax Credit, is one unfunded mandate that was passed down from Congress. He said the local government is not obligated to pay the tax credit unless Congress or the Fono passes an appropriation measure to fund it. Tauese submitted legislation to the Fono to delete the tax credit once, but it was rejected by the Fono. A similar bill was resubmitted early this year, and is pending in both chambers.

Money Solution

Tauese told the gathering that he is betting on the $18.6 million from the tobacco loan and ASG's hurricane insurance claim to pay a substantial portion of the government's budget, thus freeing up local revenues for other purposes. He was quick to point out that the insurance money is at the appeal stage.

For a few seconds the Governor was hesitant to address the political campaign but he quickly retorted that the contenders for the governor's seat "are challenging me." Tauese then lashed out his criticisms of the Leala/Afoa team.

The Governor said he welcomed the political challenges of the campaign season but he hoped that it's "done correctly and (will) not create baseless emotions."

As the two-hour forum was winding down, Tauese recalled Leala's statement about kicking back after the 1996 election to enjoy the fruits of his work and pledging his support of the Tauese Administration. He also made note of Leala's comment that he has no experience in running a government but will depend on his business experience if elected governor.

Tauese said politics and business are two separate arenas and a businessman makes a decision for himself and his profit margin. But in politics, it's the people that the government serves. He also quoted President Harry Truman as saying that it takes a politician to understand and run government and adding, "He is right."

In his concluding remarks Tauese advised the students to "think wisely" before casting their votes in the November election and not to be "swayed by false statements."

Said the governor, "Don't just vote on your emotions (because) this territory cannot exist on emotion."



By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (May 18, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---The hiring of a Tongan national as a contract worker at the Department of Commerce was clarified by Governor Tauese Sunia when he spoke at the American Samoa Community College this week.

The issue was brought up a female student.

While the local media has been reporting that the worker was the King of Tonga's niece, the Governor said the woman was not even a relative of His Majesty.

He blamed the Immigration Office for the error.

Tauese said the King had nothing to do with the hiring.

The Governor explained that American Samoa's Department of Commerce needed a qualified person with expertise in the region. He said there were no takers locally for the two-year economist post at DOC.

The government then approached Samoa to "relinquish" one of their economists to work on a two-year contract for ASG (the American Samoa Government) but Samoa declined.

ASG made contact with Tonga and it was Tutoatasi Fakafanua, an official of Tonga's Department of Commerce, who worked with the local DOC to arrange for one of their experts to take the economist’s job, "for two-years only."

"The King has nothing to do with the hiring. The King is not even related to the girl," said the Governor, noting that he himself had no role in the employment of Mau Alipate.

Tauese said that the two-year contract should be over soon and the young woman is returning to Tonga.

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