By Pacific Island Times News Staff
A. Samoa in hot water for spending Covid relief aid on vessel purchase
Pago-Pago (Talanei News) --The use of CARES Act funding to purchase the MV Pago Pago is apparently being questioned by the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Treasury.
At a hearing with Chief Procurement Officer Ti’alemasunu Dr. Mikaele Etuale during a Fono session last week, Tuala-uta lawmaker Larry Sanitoa asked about the MV Pago Pago purchase and other projects for which CARES Act money was spent.
He noted that the Inspector General’s Office questioned the boat purchase and he was concerned that the American Samoa Government (ASG) may have to reimburse that spending.
An ASG Treasury report detailing the Coronavirus Relief Fund’s $35 million shows that ASG spent $2.5 million to purchase the MV Pago Pago.
The vessel was owned by Paramount Builders when it first arrived in the territory from Honolulu in April of 2020.
Company president Papali’i Lauli’i Alofa declined to disclose how much he paid for the former naval torpedo retriever.
At a cabinet meeting in September of last year, then-governor Lolo Moliga said that the MV Pago Pago had been added to the ASG fleet.
CPO Ti’alemasunu is a member of the Compliance Review Committee that Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga appointed in January to review all expenses related to Covid-19 as well as all government contracts and employment actions from Jan. 1, 2019 to the end of last year.
This new committee is to replace one that was established by Governor Lolo in May.
Rep. Sanitoa told the CPO that the committee needs to be thorough and ensure that the government will not be burdened with reimbursing funds for costs that are ineligible.
He cited, as an example, the money for lawmakers’ offices which was repaid with General Fund monies.
Ti’alemasunu said the expenditures for the $35 million Corona Relief fund were before his time. He said vouchers were used to make payments and these were approved by the Governor and disbursed by Treasury.
The Chief Procurement Officer prior to Ti’alemasunu’s appointment was Tuimavave Tauapa’i Laupola who now chairs the Compliance Review Committee that’s looking at how the Covid-19 grants were spent.