Am. Samoa Governor, Retirement Office Executive Director Clash

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Make-up of new board, chairmanship under dispute

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 16, 2014) – American Samoa Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appointed Sonny L. Thompson, Human Resources Director, as interim Chairman of the Retirement Fund Board, and he’s to provide temporary leadership until a permanent chairman is selected, according to a letter he sent to the Executive Director of the Retirement Office, Luatua Filisoiaiga Ta’afua, last week.

However in response, Luatua has disagreed, telling the governor he has "no such authority" under the law to appoint an interim Chairman, and Aleki Sene Sr. is still a board member and currently the Chairman.

Earlier this month the Senate and House confirmed Thompson, Maaelopa Bob Tuiasosopo and Beaver Ho Ching and rejected ASG Treasurer Dr Falema’o Phil’M. Pili, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i and current Chairman Aleki Sene Sr.

GOVERNOR’S LETTER

Lolo pointed out to Luatua that with the recent approval by the Fono, there are sufficient members of the retirement board to constitute a quorum to transact business.

"It is imperative that you call the first meeting of the newly constituted board to get the affairs of the retirement fund moving forward," the governor said.

The governor further stated that since Morris Scanlan is the only member of the old Board left and no replacement has been approved by the Fono, then Scanlan should be invited to the meeting and this will provide a quorum.

"The old board is no longer in existence with the Legislative Action executed to officially curtail further membership affiliation with the American Samoa Government Employees Retirement Board.

"I do extend and express my appreciation to High Chief Faoa (Aitofele Sunia), Senator Magalei Logovi’i and Aleki Sene for their years of service to the current and retired employees of the American Samoa Government. I also want to recognize with appreciation the selfless services provided by Mr. Brandt Judy to the people to American Samoa," said the Governor.

Lolo further asked Luatua to expedite this matter given that "recent decisions by the old board members are deemed moot with the appointments of these new members."

LUATUA’S RESPONSE

In response to the governor in a letter dated April 11, 2014 Luatua informed the governor that there are four new additional members as the board was operating with only four members given the resignation of Judy late last year.

"However, just early this week, after years of selfless service and dedication to the Fund and the people of American Samoa, HC Fanene Morris Scanlan handed in his resignation, thereby officially ending his service as a member of this board."

Luatua stated that Fanene would "always be remembered as one of the driving forces behind this board and one of the reasons why the Fund enjoys the success it does today."

According to Luatua with the resignation of Fanene there are now three remaining members whose replacements have yet to be confirmed.

"While Chairman Aleki Sene and High Chiefs Faoa and Magalei were not confirmed, by their recent submissions to the Legislature, their status as Board members remain until their replacements have been properly nominated and confirmed by the Fono" he said, adding that they are "not terminated simply because they were not reconfirmed".

"Furthermore, the law as recently amended by the Fono states that the term of an incumbent member shall continue after expiration unless he or his replacement is not appointed and submitted to the Legislature for confirmation before the end of any session," Luatua said.

The Retirement Office Director pointed out that Sene, Faoa and Magalei — in accordance with local statute — are still legitimate members of the board.

He further informed the governor that he disagrees with the move to appoint Thompson as the interim Chairman.

"For one reason, the Governor is provided with no such authority under Section 7.141(a) ASCA. And for another, Mr Aleki Sene is still a member of this Board so the position of Chairman is currently occupied. Until the next meeting when the issue is properly put forth for consideration and a vote, the chairmanship is still with Mr Sene."

Luatua further stated that "as a normal procedure it is the Chairman’s responsibility to call the meetings" and therefore respectfully declines the governor’s request to schedule another Board meeting. "I understand that the Chairman intends to call the next meeting soon and the members will be notified accordingly," he noted.

"Finally, I must raise with you an issue that I believe should be clarified. I did receive with your recent letter accompanied by other letters with your instructions to serve them on the new membership. I also received from you instruction on how to proceed with this matter and who to deal with. With all due respect, the law obligates me to receive my instructions only from the Board," Luatua stated to the Governor.

Her further stated that while he appreciates the governor’s desire to engage the new members, he must respect the fact that only the Board controls his office. "If I were to carry out anyone else’s instructions without Board approval, I would be acting outside the law and to me, that would be a grave mistake."_

The Executive Director wrote, "I realize that the current situation may create some kind of confusion, especially with the new law. However, my office is constantly in consultation with our legal advisors for guidance and so it is my sincere hope to resolve any differences that we may have soon as we can."

Luatua told the governor that he has been instructed by the Chairman (Aleki Sene Sr) to provide an orientation meeting with the newly confirmed members so they can be brought up to speed with board business and such related matters.

Samoa News understands that Luatua has contacted the newly approved members to schedule a time with the retirement office for an orientation meeting.

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