Senate Committee questions budget overspending


Treasurer Malemo Tausaga testified at a previous hearing that he isn’t affiliated with any company doing business with ASG. But at a hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee this morning, he said his children has a landscaping business.

When Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean asked him if this wasn’t a conflict with his position as treasurer, he said it may be a conflict sometimes.

Reports have been circulating that the Treasurer is also affiliated with a construction company, Howards Construction. But he made clear at the hearing that he does not have any ties to the company.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing focused on the overspending of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which according to reports that were provided by the Treasurer, has exceeded $40 million.

Committee Chairman Utu Sila Poasa wanted to know exactly who in ASG was responsible for allowing departments to overrun the budgets the Fono approved.

Senator Magalei Logovii, a former Treasurer said the financial system for ASG has safeguards to stop any spending once funding runs out. Budget Director Catherine Saelua said the system has an override feature. She said when the Governor signs off on a payment, her office tries to meet that payment.

She told the hearing, the override feature can also be used by Treasury.

Senator Togiola Tulafono put it to the Budget Director, so you’ll do what the Governor wants even if it violates the law?

Saelua didn’t give a yes or no answer, but explained that many times requests from departments are returned if there’s no funding; but when an invoice has the Governor’s signature, they try to meet it.

The Treasurer explained that a significant amount of the overruns were for emergency costs related to natural disasters, for which funds were urgently needed.

Senate President Tuaolo questioned payments made to Alapati Fano Security Service which the Treasurer identified as belonging to the Governor’s security officer—of close to $19,000 a month. He compared this bill to that of his wife Nana’s Security service of $4,000 to $5,000 a month.

Tuaolo asked Malemo and Saelua if they read the anti-deficiency law, to which both replied yes.

“And what’s the penalty for a violation?” Tuaolo asked. Malemo replied that one can go to jail.

Also listed in the report are protocol costs in the name of the Chief of Staff, Loa Tuimavave Laupola.

According to the Treasurer, while some payments are made in the Chief of Staff’s name, it’s at the request of the Governor.

Senator Satele Lili’o told the Treasurer that he had lied to the Senate when questioned about his affiliation with contractors doing business with the government.

The Senate is anxious to identify who exactly in the executive branch is responsible for the overspending in light of a resolution that it has passed for the Attorney General to request appointment of an Independent Prosecutor to investigate the overspending and prosecute those responsible.

During the Senate session that followed the hearing, Senator Muagututia Tauoa declared that the Senate should take this matter to court. He said the to’oto’o, referring to Malemo, has lied to the Senate and if they continue to hold hearings, they would hear the same answers over and over. The senior Senator said it was time for the court to make a decision on the spending of money that the Fono didn’t approve.