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Two percent cost of living increase not worth effort

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News) - Governor Togiola Tulafono has lashed out at the American Samoa Government Employees Retirement Fund board of directors for proposing only a 2 percent cost of living increase for government retirees.

Togiola says he has been blamed for not submitting to the legislature the increase proposed by the board, which is supposed to go into effect next year.

Speaking on his weekend radio program, the governor confirmed he hadn't sent the proposal to the fono for its approval, for the simple fact that it a very small, "measly" increase while the cost of living is on the rise.

For example, if a retiree gets US$1,000 a month in benefits that mean the proposed increase gives that retiree only an additional US$20, which does not buy much for the retiree for his or her family, the governor said. He said that US$20 would probably last only half a day, even if the retiree were buying only a cup of 'supo esi'.

Togiola also says that the board spends hundreds of dollars for off-island travel for meetings while it proposes only two percent for retirees who have spent years of service in government and deserve better.

The governor recalled several years ago when thousands of dollars was spent by the board to travel to Great Britain for an investment meeting paid for by the retirement fund a trip heavily criticized by the public but defended by the board as necessary.

The governor also pointed out that every two years the board holds a meeting in Honolulu where up to 20 lawmakers and staff from the Legislature attends, also costing the retirement fund hundreds of dollars.

While the thousands of dollars that belong to retirees and government employees, who have not yet retired are being used by the board for off-island meetings, Togiola says he is appalled that only a two percent increase in benefits was proposed by the board.

The next off-island board meeting that includes lawmakers is some time in February 2011 and the governor says the board of the retirement fund will once again used hundreds of dollars from the fund to pay these expenses.

Togiola says some of these lawmakers don't even attend the meetings and use their per diems for other purposes and he threatened to expose expenses of next year's board meeting.

Retirement Fund board Chairman Aleki Sene Sr. is off-island and could not be reached for comments. One of the board members is the Lieutenant Governor

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