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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Feb. 13) - A Senate resolution requesting that American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono sell the plane [recently purchased for government use] or seek other avenues of disposal for the 8-seat aircraft was introduced in the Senate on Friday.

The resolution, sponsored by Senate President Lolo M. Moliga and Senators Sega Atoe, Muagututia Dr. Vaiula Tuato'o, Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson and Liufau T. Sonoma, points out that US$500,000 was appropriated in 2003 to address transportation needs for Manu'a.

However an aircraft was purchased and along with expenses, the cost totaled US$492,996, leaving a balance of just over US$7,000 According to the resolution, the governor then "resorted to spending federal funds" to pay local expenses associated with the plane, such as asphalt paving for the hangar and taxiway, gasoline, sliding doors and pilot services totaling US$125,743.

The resolution says that it is apparent from the governor's expense report (on the plane provided to the Senate last month), the Port Administration's proposed airplane budget and the rising costs associated with the plane that the cost to operate and maintain the aircraft will continue to escalate.

According to the governor's report, the total budget for Manu'a transportation and emergency needs stood at $850,000, with $500,000 passed by the Fono and signed into law in 2003, plus $350,000 from the federal Job Growth and Tax Relief funds.

While expenses are rising, the "airplane is not ready or FAA certified to fly," the resolution claims. In order to halt rising costs ASG [American Samoa Government] is incurring, the resolution recommends that the aircraft "should be sold or other means considered in disposing of the airplane at the most minimum cost" to ASG.

During a Senate Budget Committee hearing last month, Manu'a Sen. Sega Atoe said the name of the Manu'a Islands should not be associated with the ASG aircraft. He said the plane (named "Segaula") was purchased by the governor for ASG use and he did not feel it was correct to keep saying it was Manu'a's aircraft.

According to the resolution, the Legislature will proceed to request that the Attorney General conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether reasonable grounds exist to warrant a further probe into the airplane expenditures, pursuant to Title 4, Chapter 8 of the American Samoa Code Annotated "Independent Prosecutor." If the AG determines further investigation is warranted, he is required to apply to the Court for the appointment of an independent prosecutor, it says.

The resolution was assigned to Sen. Pulefa'asisina P. Tuiasosopo for a committee review and should be returned to the Senate early this week for a second reading and a final vote.

The Senate has been critical of the aircraft purchase, claiming that the money used for the purchase could be better utilized for other services such as schools and roads.

Responding to a caller on his weekend radio program, Togiola said the aircraft now belongs to ASG, all paid for in full and he has no plans of returning the plane to its owners. He said it would be a big loss for ASG. He reiterated that the aircraft would be used for travel to Manu'a, marine surveillance and protection of the territory's borders.

He said last week Manu'a encountered air travel problems but unfortunately the pilot and engineer for the ASG plane has not arrived, so the aircraft could not be utilized at the time.

Currently only Inter Island Airways provides air service to Manu'a.

February 14, 2006

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