Am. Samoa Retirement Board Member To Governor: ‘Back Off’

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Lolo called out for trying to control fund: Actions called ‘offensive’

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Aug. 25, 2015) – Retirement Board Member, Aloma Aumua-Langford did not mince words when telling the governor to "withdraw his plans for direct or indirect control of the (retirement) fund," in a letter she sent to the governor following their meeting last week, where Lolo suggested having his legal counsel be his "eyes and ears" at the Retirement Office.

This was not taken lightly by Langford, who stated that "this is not only unnecessary but offensive" and "clearly an invasion of the board’s authority and a prelude to your office usurping the board’s role." In the letter, leaked to Samoa News and written in English, Langford stated that following their meeting last week, she felt obligated to voice her concerns.

"I am somewhat surprised with the turn things have taken, especially with the manner by which the Fund is now being handled by you and your office," Langford said, adding that, as a trustee, her duties rest with the members of the fund — and as a member, she’s obligated to "zealously work for the best interests of the people whose trust I have been given."

She wrote, "That means I do everything I can to discourage threats to the fund and to make sure that the board operates justly, independently, and without influence from outside forces."

Langford then stated that due to their meeting last week, she has been led her to believe the board and the fund "are seriously in danger of being forcefully taken over."

The only female member on the board also said that she wholeheartedly agrees that the fund must be protected at all times. "But security and protection for the fund does not automatically mean direct supervision by your office through someone that you appoint. Your suggestion that Mr. Steve Watson act as your eyes and ears at the Retirement office is not only unnecessary, but offensive as well. That is clearly an invasion of the board’s authority and a prelude to your office usurping the Board’s role."

She stated the fund is secure and surely does not need someone from the outside to be constantly monitoring and keeping an eye on its day to day operations and financial status.

"There are many hard working and qualified individuals at the Retirement Fund Office who are more than capable of being in charge of things, and who can report directly to the chairman of the board should issues arise.

"Furthermore, having someone there who is nether a member of the board nor an employee of the Retirement Fund reporting to you or anyone else would violate rules of confidentiality and trust imposed upon the fund by law," Langford said.

The board member went on to say that she was taken aback when the Chairman of the board attempted to assert his role as a leader of the fund (by asking) to delay the appointment of Steven Watson to his new role, and "you asserted your role as Governor and brought an end to our discussion on this issue by insisting that your decision was final."

"I sat there and thought about what you did and how it really defined my role as a board member. I found your actions demeaning and a slap in the face," she stated.

According to Langford, the governor during their meeting reminded them that the only reason they were on the board was because of him — and this, also, did not sit well with her — she felt that her obligation as a member was being threatened by the governor.

"I cannot in good conscious accept being dictated (to) how I should serve as a member of the board of trustees of the fund." She reminded the governor that she had been an employee of the Retirement Fund for over 30 years and she has a pretty good understanding of how things work internally.

Langford told Lolo that while she was grateful when she was appointed to the board, when "you (Governor) revealed your true intentions I [am] honestly disappointed. The law is clear; the governor has no role in the operation of the Retirement Fund except to nominate Board members to the Fono.

"You have done that, so now I urge that you leave us to do our work. Let the board assume control of the Fund, just as it always was done." Langford further told the Governor to let the Chairman lead and let the fund employees get back to their work.

According to Langford the retirement fund was successful long before the Lolo & Lemanu Administration took over and she’s quite certain that "with no politics and less outside control, the fund will continue to flourish."

She also took issue with the ongoing investigation, which was launched in July, where the Retirement Board members asked the Commissioner of Public Safety, Save Liuato Title to launch an investigation into alleged deeds of "misconduct and conflict of interest" by the Retirement Office Executive Director Luatua Filisouaiga Ta’afua for the "unauthorized use of Chairman Fanene Morris Scanlan’s stamp."

Samoa News should point out the letter was sent to the Commissioner, on Monday, July 21, 2015 and it was signed by former Chairman Fanene, Aloma Aumua-Langford, Ueli Tonumaipe’a, Sonny L. Thompson and Maae Bob Tuiasosopo.

In her letter to the governor last week, Langford pointed out "this ongoing investigation that you and the former Chairman initiated against the Director of the Fund, I do not know where it will end. However, at our meeting, Commissioner Save indicated that there is a lot that needs to be investigated.

"My questions are: How far will this investigation go? What scope of work does it target? What is the specific aim of this investigation? This investigation I believe should not be an open-ended operation. And, are the investigators qualified to handle and treat confidential Fund information?"

Langford wrote that she hopes this on-going investigation that Lolo ordered is done for the right motives and reasons.

She concluded by apologizing to the Governor if she strikes a "bad chord" with him; noting that it’s not her intention to offend or disrespect the governor, but only to advocate for the board and what she believes to be right.

"I ask that you withdraw any plans for direct or indirect control of the fund," Langford states.

"There is too much at risk here to be playing politics and dictating to us board members regarding our fiduciary duties and responsibilities as trustees of the fund so we can function as usual," Langford says to Governor Lolo.

Copies of the letter were also sent to Chairman of the Board; the Lt Governor; Senators and Representatives and the Secretary of Samoan Affairs, as well as District Governors and the Attorney General.

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