AMERICAN SAMOA BILL PUSHES PUBLIC WORKERS TO RETIRE

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, April 4) - The Togiola Administration has submitted to the Fono legislation that would provide retirement incentives for American Samoa Government workers and prevent the rehiring of Government retirees.

According to the legislation, a government employee who has reached 30 years of service will be offered US$20,000 to retire while an individual who has reached 35 years will be offered US$15,000. The goal is to make retirement more attractive to government employees.

The measure, which was submitted to the Fono the day before the First Regular Session ended, will be reviewed in July when lawmakers return for the Second Regular Session.

Governor Togiola has been talking about this proposal since last year following complaints from the public and some lawmakers about American Samoa Government workers who are of retirement age but continue to work for the government making it difficult for college graduates to find jobs.

In a March 28 letter to the Fono leadership, Acting Governor Ipulasi A. Sunia said the new legislation "provides retirement incentives" for American Samoa Government employees upon the attainment of 30 and 35 years of civil service.

While American Samoa Government has been the recipient of several years or honorable service by its employees, Ipulasi said "there is a recent trend whereby jobs for the next generation of our people, especially returning undergraduate and graduate students are not available due to the long tenure of current employees."

Due to this trend, the administration has been investigating the possibility of providing incentives to make retirement more attractive to American Samoa Government employees in order to bring in new talent and perspective to the American Samoa Government workforce, said Ipulasi.

"There is no impairment to the employee's right to their retirement annuity; the incentive is in addition to the annuity earned with the Retirement Fund," Ipulasi explained.

The legislation also provides provisions for the repayment of the incentive in the event the employee re-enters the American Samoa Government workforce.

"This is appropriate, as reentry into the workforce would defeat the intent of the incentive," he said. "Additionally, there are provisions covering grace periods for current and recently retired employees, as well as procedures for ensuring that employees who received the incentive are effectively screened for repayment in case of reentry into the workforce."

Togiola has said publicly that a loophole in the current law has allowed American Samoa Government workers to retire and then re-enter the American Samoa Government workforce, because there is no specific language to ensure that only those very hard to fill positions are exempted.

Lawmakers have described this practice as "double dipping" with certain senior American Samoa Government employees collecting not only their American Samoa Government retirement benefit check but also their high salaries.

Ipulasi said another provision in the Administration's proposal "would effectively end the practice of retired individuals returning to work for American Samoa Government in any capacity."

"This is not only a legal issue with our employment code, but a moral issue as well," he said, adding that there are certain positions being exempted from the proposal in order to keep with privileges extended to each of the branches of government.

"Therefore, elected officials, appointed officials of the judiciary and gubernatorial appointees are exempted from repayment of the incentive upon reentry into the workforce by virtue of an elected or appointed position."

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