Am. Samoa House Votes To Give Lawmakers A Raise

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Bill to boost next term salaries by 50-60% passes House

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 27, 2016) – Tualauta Faipule Larry Sanitoa is extremely disappointed that the first order of business for the House of Representatives in 2016 is to raise the salary of faipule and senators. He made the comment following House approval of the bill to raise lawmakers salaries by 50- 60%. The final reading yesterday was approved in a vote of 13 yeas and four nays.

The bill to increase the salaries of lawmakers was introduced by Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen, and seeks to hike the salaries of the Senate President and House Speaker from $30,000 to $50,000 annually.

Further, the annual salary of each member of the Legislature would increase from $25,000 to $45,000 while the salary of the Swains Island Delegate would go from $20,000 to $40,000. Under local law, lawmakers can increase the salaries of future Legislatures but not the current one.

Sanitoa told Samoa News that while he respects the decision of his colleagues, "I am extremely disappointed that the first order of business for the House of Representatives in 2016 is to raise the salary of faipule and senators. The question and my concern: Is raising our salaries more critical and an urgent matter facing our government and people? The answer is unequivocally no." He further stated the conversation should have never been about the lawmakers but rather it should be holding serious discussions and brainstorming sessions on addressing many critical problems facing the territory.

"Our healthcare is deteriorating due to lack of sustainable funding and proper management, the schools are lacking basic proper supplies to educate our children, maintaining and developing our infrastructure, and the list goes on. Given the recent financial reports on our local revenue collections, this additional $800,000 from local funds will definitely put a strain and pressure on our financial stability in the future," said Sanitoa.

Also during the hearing earlier this week, Sanitoa was adamant the salary increased measure is "unconstitutional" noting that any and all money bills should also indicate a revenue source as stated under the Constitution. However, Fono Counsel, Nathaniel Savali disagrees and says the bill can go through the process without any revenue source as salaries for lawmakers and government officials are deliberated in the budget, also that this increase will be effective for Fiscal Year 2017.

Samoa News should point out that both Tualauta faipule, which includes Vui Florence Vaili Saulo voted against the bill. Vui has also been vocal against the raise, echoing the frustration and complaints from the public, and called for a public hearing on the issue, which was ignored.

Maugaolai’i also told Samoa News that his discontent with the passage of House bill to increase the salaries of faipule and senators stems mainly from the lack of due process and the failure of the bill to identify a funding source as required by Statute.

"To fast track this Bill through by the committee chair without a proper hearing is just totally ill responsible. Suggestions were offered by a few House members to call a hearing and unfortunately, it just fell on dead ears."

He said it's against his better judgement to agree with the hike of pay for the Fono, when there are major issues and problems facing the LBJ Hospital, with the lack of Medicine and supplies, nurses and good doctors.

"The deplorable conditions of our schools, our children subjected to sitting on the floor for lack of tables and chairs, is just alarming to say the least. Problems with roads — are just a few things that would suggest that this is not the time for the increase of Fono salaries. To suggest that the increase is for the benefit of future generations and to attract the right people to the Fono is a slap in the face for those who work hard for their respective districts.

"There is no justification for the increase no matter which way you slice this. Our job as lawmakers is to serve our people and not look for ways to increase your means," he stated.

The annual salaries for lawmakers does not include the annual office allowance — $40,000 each for the Senate President and House Speaker and $30,000 for each Senator and House member and if approved into law the lawmakers will be making $70,000 annually while the Senate President and House Speaker will be making $90,000.

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