Am. Samoa Treasurer Won’t Reinstate Former Customs Head

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Falema’o Pili says reassignment followed proper processes

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan .13, 2014) – American Samoa government (ASG) Treasurer Dr Falema’o Phil Pili will not reinstate Vaetagaloa Glen Lefiti as Chief Customs Officer, saying reassigning him to another position is "well within my purview as Director."

Falema’o is responding to a letter dated Dec. 31, 2013, from then Attorney General Afoa L Su’esu’e Lutu, counseling him to comply with the order from the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to reinstate Vaetagaloa, as the government has withdrawn its appeal of the order.

Vaetagaloa has been entangled in a legal web for the past four months after he was terminated from his post as Chief Customs Officer last August for failing to immediately inform his boss, Treasurer Dr. Falema’o, about an incident involving a customs officer, who picked up a package from the Post Office after bypassing a customs inspection.

The ALJ ruled in Vaetagaloa’s favor, citing while he did commit negligence and gross misjudgment for not reporting the incident involving a customs officer, termination in this case was not appropriate.

The judge then ordered Vaetagaloa’s termination "revoked, reversed, and modified in that he is reinstated to the career service position of Chief Customs Officer in the Department of Treasury... and his employee rights and benefits are further reinstated including back pay, sick leave, annual leave accrual, and retirement."

Vaetagaloa was also to be suspended for 30 days, sometime during the first 6 months of his reinstatement. He chose to take it right away, and it has since been served.

In response, ASG filed an appeal — however, on Afoa’s last day at work (Dec. 31 2013) he wrote to Falema’o saying the appeal has been withdrawn, and told the Treasurer the ALJ order must be upheld and Vaetagaloa is to be reinstated as Chief Customs Officer.

He further counseled the Treasurer to comply with the order "immediately." He wrote, "Understand that your failure to comply with this order, against the counsel of the Attorney General, may create personal liability against you, and therefore, relieve any further liability against the ASG. You are now put on notice of this order."

The Treasurer responded to the letter, addressing his reply to appointed Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, noting he "fully understands the ruling of the ALJ." He said as pursuant to the ALJ’s order, Vaetagaloa was suspended for 30 days and reinstated as an employee with his benefits and back pay restored.

"The subsequent actions pertaining to his reinstatement were based upon consultation and guidance from your very own legal staff. The decision to reassign Lefiti from Chief Customs Officer to another position, with the same grade and classification, is well within my purview as Director."

The Treasurer said all processes and procedures were adhered to in accordance with legal guidance from the Attorney General’s Office and carried out as such and Vaetagaloa and his attorney were aware of his reassignment during a meeting they held following the judgment and the administrative decision.

"As you are aware the reasons for my decision were twofold, to protect the integrity of the customs operations and Mr Lefiti’s rights and those of fellow customs officers."

The Treasurer then pointed out in his letter that there is an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Internal Affairs of the Department of Public Safety and in coordination with the AG’s criminal division with the other customs officer (Maluia) and it was this incident that gave rise to the suspension of Lefiti.

"This investigation has resulted in criminal charges being filed in the District Court and in order to carry the Treasury’s fiduciary duties he must protect the revenue generation functions of the government and all operations that support that mandate.

"Therefore Mr. Lefiti’s reassignment to the Analytic Unit was to be in the best interest of all concerned," he stated.

The Treasurer continued that he hopes this will "clarify the actions, which led up to the final decision" he told Acting AG Talauega. Falema’o also stated his intent was to protect the interest of all the parties.

"Let me reinforce that all decision and consequent actions regarding Mr. Lefiti were done in accordance with your staff (AG’s office)."

Vaetagaloa Glen Lefiti is a government career service employee, who has been employed with the Treasury Department for 11 years.

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