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‘HERITAGE WEEK’ COSTS AM. SAMOA GOVERNMENT $60K Lawmakers raise eyebrows over use of commerce funds

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 3, 2011) - About US$60,000 from the Department of Commerce (DOC) has been used so far to pay for expenditures of the Samoan Heritage Week in Hawai'i, according to testimony by DOC director Faleseu Eliu Paopao, when he appeared last week for the FY 2012 budget review for his department.

Lawmakers have been wondering how much the government forked out to pay for the Heritage Week, held last month in Honolulu, since the administration didn't seek funding from the Fono and no other information was provided by the governor's office.

The only information that was made public, came from Gov. Togiola Tulafono on his radio program two weekends ago, saying that there was no need for him to tell the Fono anything about the Heritage Week since the Fono didn't appropriate any money for the annual event and his office didn't request any funding.

Togiola said the event was funded with fund raising activities by the organizing committee in Honolulu as well as funds from programs administered by the Governor's Office and tourism related money already budgeted in the current fiscal year.

So when Faleseu appeared last week during the FY 2012 budget hearing, Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai asked if the DOC provided funding for the Heritage Week - which was the same case last year when total expenditures were around $50,000, according to two lawmakers who attended the hearing.

Faleseu told the hearing that around $60,000 came from his office but he has yet to see a final report of expenses. He said this is unused money from the DOC budget for the current fiscal year.

Faleseu said the money provided funding assistance in areas like cultural promotions and development, and organized workshops for Samoans in Hawai'i focusing on issues such as immigration, health and human services.

While Taotasi is appreciative of the DOC providing this information for the Fono, the Ituau lawmaker says that ASG continues to face budget constraints and the territory needs a plan for economic development. He said the money spent for the event in Hawai'i could have been used here.

Two lawmakers who attended the hearing - relayed to Samoa News later that they suspect that more than $60,000 actually went into the event, if "you factor in the airfares and per diems of government officials who attended the heritage week."

It's unclear if the Fono will request a financial report on the Heritage Week spending.

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