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But government says US$360,000 ‘shortfall’ is shrinking

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Sept. 29, 2008) - While the financial report of the 10th Festival of the Pacific Arts is yet to be finalized, the organizing committee told senators on Friday the shortfall continues to decrease as the financial office reconciles records with vendors.

The Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Senator Fiatauiaulava I. Sauni, heard an update on the financial report from the festival's committee and answers to a lingering question, why some vendors have yet to be paid.

The original festival budget was set at US$4.6 million with an expected shortfall of US$1.5 million. When the festival committee was summoned late last month to the Senate, the shortfall at the time was US$463,000.

Festival committee co-chair Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde, who is also the festival's chief financial officer, informed senators on Friday the budget shortfall has since decreased. It is now down to about US$360,000, due to the diligent work of the finance subcommittee staff in making sure billed services were delivered.

For example, he said last week Thursday they received two invoices now being reviewed and reconciled before payment is issued.

He said it appears that during the arts festival, chairs of subcommittees received invoices for services but the finance subcommittee was not aware of them until he was contacted by vendors.

Fagafaga said they have about seven invoices left that need to be paid and the festival committee expects to have this done this week, before closing the financial books and issuing a final report to the governor with copies to the Fono.

"We must verify all invoices to make sure the service was provided," said Fagafaga, who pointed to instances when the finance staff discovered and the vendors agreed that the service was not provided.

There is also another delay in closing the financial books, said Fagafaga. The festival committee is working to reconcile records with the two local banks for the food voucher scheme, in which festival participants were provided food coupons for three daily meals.

He said there are some differences in figures between the festival committee and the two banks that should soon be resolved.

The food voucher program was given a budget of US$1.5 million but Fagafaga said only US$1.02 million was actually spent on the vouchers, adding that not all vouchers printed were used.

"So we still have some money left over from the food voucher budget and we should know the total spent on this program once the records are reconciled with the two banks," said Fagafaga, who noted the $1.5 million budget for food vouchers went through the ASG Treasury Department to ensure smooth transaction with the two banks.

Fagafaga said the food voucher program was used for food only and nothing else. He said savings from the food voucher program will help decrease the shortfall.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson told the festival committee he is very concerned that a lot of the festival money spent on expenses went back to ASG instead of the private sector, who was supposed to benefit the most from the festival.

Alo reminded festival officials of their first testimonies before the Senate early this year that this festival would benefit the private sector and the community as a whole.

Fiatauiaulava questioned the use of an off-island firm to provide the PA system during the festival, saying a local firm was the lowest bidder but was not awarded the contract.

Fiatauiaulava also said the local firm claims the PA system installed by the off-island firm was not very good.

Fagafaga said the festival committee had to comply with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) requirements for the PA system and lighting, especially at the Veterans Memorial Stadium, a very large venue, and the Fagatogo Pavilion.

He said no local company had the necessary equipment to meet the specific SPC requirements and the off-island firm contracted for this service is operated by Charlie Tualatai, a Samoan.

He said Tualatai's company contracted for the sound and light systems at the Veterans Stadium and the Fagatogo Pavilion while a local firm was contracted for the PA system at the Utulei Beach stage and the Samoana Gymnasium.

According to the festival committee budget a total of US$272,500 was allocated for sound and lighting expenses.

Asked about a video of the festival, Fagafaga said the SPC is sending a first order to Pago Pago and once it arrives the community will be informed.

Senators made it clear to the festival committee that they did an excellent job organizing this regional event and again congratulated them for a successful arts festival that has attracted a lot of positive feedback from participating countries.

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