American Samoa Governor Wants Return Of AmeriCorps

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Moliga to repay debt, seeks restoration of youth program

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 27, 2013) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has requested from the federal grantor of the AmeriCorps program complete details of the outstanding debt owed by the American Samoa Government so that the money can be fully repaid and the federal program—which benefits youth in the territory— can be restored.

Lolo made the request via a Jan. 16, 2013 letter to Claire Moreno, with the Office of Grants Management at the Washington D.C. based Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS), the federal grantor for AmeriCorps, who provided funds to local organizations such as Read to Me Samoa and Jungle Busters. American Samoa Special Service Commission was the ASG entity charged with AmeriCorps in the territory.

Following an audit of ASSSC by the federal grantor two years ago and a probe by the federal government, the ASSSC executive director Mine Pase was charged in federal court in Washington D.C., where she later plead guilty under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

Pase was sentenced last June to 14 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. She was ordered to pay $325,408 in restitution and the restitution is the total amount of money that prosecutors say Pase stole from the program. The federal grantor in 2011 terminated funding for ASSSC, which was then shutdown.

While court records revealed how much Pase is to pay in restitution, there was no clear indication of how much ASG was to pay back to the federal grantor, who outlined in an audit released in January 2011—that led to the investigation of the ASSSC—numerous problems and questionable costs in operating the local program.

However, Lolo’s letter to Moreno provided some information on what should be paid. Lolo was responding to Moreno’s letter of Nov. 2, 2012 to then Gov. Togiola Tulafono about the payment and corrective measures to be taken by ASG.

Lolo said this matter was just recently brought to his attention and ASG "had failed to respond adequately...thus manifesting the lack of government action taken to resolve audit findings prompting the demand for reimbursement of disallowed costs associated with" ASSSC’s operations.

Lolo says he has read through the audit report and subsequent findings that formed the basis for the actions pursued by CNCS.

"It is regrettable that we have found ourselves in this unenviable situation, however, I cannot in good conscience oppress the youth and people of American Samoa by not adopting aggressive actions to resolve these outstanding issues and expressing commitment to the payment of the amounts determined to be not in compliance with award conditions, and past management failures to practice prudent management practices and establishing adequate systems of internal controls," he wrote.

Additionally, the Treasury Department has been instructed to find funds to liquidate the current demand payments for disallowed costs.

Lolo’s letter revealed that ASG failed to comply with the repayment schedule, with a deadline set for Jan. 2 this year and this has resulted in the accumulation of interest, penalties and additional agency charges. (It was Moreno’s letter to Togiola that revealed the payment deadline.)

Lolo requested the waiving of interest, penalties and agency charges given that his administration has only been in office for two weeks and "played no part in the perpetration of this unfortunate incident."

"However, if the payment of interest, penalties and agency charges adversely impact your decision relative to allowing the resurrection of the program [in American Samoa]," payment will be made along with the determined disallowed costs, said Lolo.

According to the letter, payment of $36,3230 was due Nov. 2 along with the interest, penalties and agency charges began accumulating on Dec. 2, 2012. Additionally Jan. 2, 2013 was the deadline by which ASG needed to act on several compliance issues. However, Lolo said ASG had not complied with the terms.

"Of greatest concern to me is that the integrity and the reputation of the American Samoa Government is severely compromised," Lolo wrote to Moreno, who then asked that the exact amount ASG owes to be provided so that it could be "fully liquidated."

Lolo hopes that the federal agency will grant his administration the opportunity to resurrect this program in the territory given the "inherent broad benefits" which will "improve the quality of life of our people."

The governor said he has much "to do to reclaim" ASG’s "reputation as a public entity that is committed to full compliance with all rules and regulations governing federal programs which American Samoa is fortunate to receive."

"As one of my my former mentors, who himself was a former governor, said—‘Actions speak louder then words’. I’ll let my actions manifest my commitment to CNCS that this incident will never be replicated under my watch," he said.

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