ASG awarded $164.6 million in COVID-19 grants

Total funding that ASG has been awarded in COVID-19 grants is $164.6 million of which $69.7 million has been spent.

A complete report of the awards and spending dated August 4 was distributed by Treasurer Ueligitone Tonumaipe’a and Budget Director Catherine Saelua at a hearing of the House Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.

Looking at the grant of $35.1 million that ASG received under the CARES Act as of July 31, $16.4 million has been spent on COVID-19 operations, which includes payroll for ASG personnel related to coronavirus response, stipends for the Coronavirus Task Force and Working Group, and construction of quarantine facilities and charter flights operated by Samoa Airways.

It also includes the $500,000 each given to the High Court and the Fono, payments given to families that own land in Nu’uuli for the alternate road project, and the Leapaga Family for the Fagaima to Malaeimi road project.

With regards to the half a million paid to the Fono for lawmaker’ offices, Treasurer Tonumaipe’a said that after being told by the Inspector General’s Office of US Treasury that the funds should be returned, he has charged this funding to ASG’s local account while he awaits a discussion with the Governor on how the funds will be collected. The Fono leaders receive $20,000 while members receive $10,000.

Tonumaipe’a said only two lawmakers have returned the funds. He didn’t name them but the two are Larry Sanitoa and Vesiai Poyer Samuelu.

Payments for an alternate road that Governor Lolo Moliga has proposed to be built from the area behind the old Paea Store and connecting to a road behind Steven’s Store across from the Territorial Correctional Facility, are also paid with this grant money.

The report lists $200,000 to the Soliai family and $75,000 for the Leapaga Family. (KHJ News points out that a spokesman for the Soliai Family says they have not received this money) The latter payment is for the road from the intersection of Fagaima and Kokoland road linking up to the Malaemi highway.

The stipends for the Coronavirus Task Force and Working Group totals $122,000/

At yesterday’s hearing Rep Larry Sanitoa stressed that the Budget Act requires all new funding to be appropriated by the Fono. He asked the two witnesses why this funding wasn’t submitted for Fono review.

Before the treasurer could reply Committee Chairman Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi said what Sanitoa was asking about had been queried by the committee however there was a meeting between the Senate President, House Speaker and the governor and they agreed on how the funding would be spent.

The treasurer said he was going to give the same explanation given by Vailiuama.

He said he was present at the leaders meeting and because of the agreement between the leaders, the grant was not sent to the Fono for approval.

This prompted a response from Sanitoa.

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The Tuala-uta faipule said had the funding been brought to the Fono for review, it would have resolved all the questions being asked now. Further its part of the check and balance between the branches of government.

Sanitoa also asked the treasurer if construction of facilities and roads are allowable costs under the CARES Act.

Tonumaipe’a responded yes. If the buildings are used for COVID-19 response, such as to quarantine people its allowable. If roads are connected to the care of patients its also allowable.

We’ll have more on the COVID-19 spending in future bulletins.

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