AMERICAN SAMOA OFFICIALS GET $20,000 EACH FOR LONDON TRIP

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By B. Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 18) - At least three people representing the American Samoa Government's Employee Retirement Fund each received a per diem/travel assistance of US$20,049.50 for a one-week trip (September 28-October 5) to London, England.

[PIR editor’s note: This reporter clarifies further in the story that, for this trip, each of the three men received US$2,864.21 per day for a one-week period.]

Four people traveled to London, England. Lt. Governor Ipulasi Aitofele Sunia, Budget Office director Magalei Logovi'i, Retirement Fund board chairman Aleki Sene and the Fund's executive director Filisouaiga Pili Taafua. However, as of press time last evening, Samoa News was unable to confirm if the Retirement Fund board chairman Aleki Sene received the same amount as his counterparts.

Samoa News has obtained photo copies of the checks issued to Magalei, Ipulasi, and Filisouaiga. All received travel assistance checks drawn out of the American Samoa Government Employees' Retirement Fund's Administrative Expense Account. The checks were signed by Sene and Taafua.

Based on the length of the trip and the amount of per diem issued, each of the three men received US$2,864.21 per day for a one-week period.

When contacted for comments yesterday morning, Filisouaiga explained that the checks were issued as travel assistance for their recent trip to London, and board members are only given money and financial assistance for travel, as they do not receive commission or compensation for their services.

No explanation was offered as to how the per diem rate was calculated.

Filisouaiga continued by saying that the purpose of the trip was to meet with several investment managers, and London was the location of choice because that is where most of the headquarters for the different investment managers are based.

"We traveled to London to see their side of things there, as this is our responsibility to the Fund, to keep up with how the investments are being handled and how the funds are being managed," Filisouaiga explained, adding that 20 percent (US$40 million) of the Retirement Fund's portfolio is invested internationally.

When asked how many more trips the Retirement Fund board members plan on taking this year, Filisouaiga replied that there are a number of conferences on the agenda, although participation in these trips must always be approved by the Retirement Fund Board, (whose members are the ones traveling on the trips), based on recommendations from the financial advisor based in New Jersey.

"I have nothing to hide," Filisouaiga offered, saying that if the members of the local Legislature call upon him to testify about the situation, he would do so willingly. "Our job is to keep up with our investments and benefit services."

The Retirement Fund did receive a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting last year. However, in their financial report last year, it was revealed that the Retirement Fund was only earning 4 percent on US$185 million worth of investments. Also, despite low earnings, an estimated US$200,000 was spent on investment fees paid out to about 20 investment managers, some of whom are assumed were visited by the traveling delegation in London.

A disappointed local business owner who spoke to Samoa News argues that the return could and should be higher, and the Retirement Fund executive director, as well as board members, should stop dishing out so much money to fund expensive trips and to pay investment managers who aren't producing satisfactory returns.

Based on their 2005 financial report, the Retirement Fund is adequately funded to meet all expected future obligations to its participants. The same fact was echoed by Governor Togiola earlier this year when he said, "There is a lot of money in the Retirement Fund."

But many argue that the Fund would flourish even more, and continue on an upward stream, if the returns on the investments were higher and the expenses were drastically reduced.

One irate local resident whose parents are both retired from service to the American Samoa Government asked, "How can they justify spending over US$80,000 on a one-week trip? Is this where my parents' hard earned money is going? To fund a getaway for four men who traveled half way across the world? What kind of person needs over US$20,000 for a one-week trip and who in their right mind could possibly think this is justifiable?"

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