Pay hike for American Samoa leaders angers
Lawmakers in American Samoa are being asked to fix education and health problems, before they put money in their own pockets.
Lawmakers in American Samoa are being asked to fix education and health problems, before they put money into their own pockets.
The Legislature is reviewing $10,000 increases in expense allowances for lawmakers, and a bill to raise the governor and lieutenant governor's salaries to $125,000 and $100,000 respectively.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
The President of the Federation of American Samoa Educators, Peni Ben Te'o, delivered a letter to the governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, outlining a number of shortfalls the government needs to address, before increasing allowances and salaries. He says there's not enough funding to hire the number of teachers needed, not enough desks in schools, not enough buses and bus drivers, and no money to pay service contracts for air conditioners and copiers at the schools.
PENI BEN TE'O: That's just the tip of the iceberg, the nurses are screaming for help, the low pay they have, there's not enough nurses, also the firemen and the policemen, they're in the same category.
A member of the House of Representatives, Larry Sanitoa, says raising the governor and lieutenant governor's salaries would bring them in line with the heads of government departments, some of whom currently earn more than the governor. And he says according to the senate, there is money in the upcoming budget for the legislature to increase expense allowances. But Larry Sanitoa says criticism of the proposed legislation is valid, and he does not support either bill for a number of reasons. He says the latest report from the government shows there will be a possible deficit at the end of the 2014 fiscal year, and while the cost of living goes up, the minimum wage remains the same.
LARRY SANITOA: Our minimum wage, it's still at the $4.60 threshold. From that standpoint, not knowing exactly whether we're going to have enough money to support the operation of the government moving forward in 2015 is why I am absolutely not in favour at this point.
Our correspondent, Monica Miller, says the public reaction to discussions around such a pay increase, and an expense increase for all fono members, has not been positive.
MONICA MILLER: Certainly people are not happy, especially when the government workforce has not had any pay increment for a couple of years. There's also provision in the fiscal year 2015 budget for increases for the department directors. So many people who have not received a pay raise for a few years are not very happy that those at the top are getting these increases and not so much the general population.
A few days after he delivered his letter to the governor, Peni Ben Te'o says he received a phone call from Governor Lolo, who responded to his concerns. He says Lolo told him that he had not asked for the payrises, and will not do anything until he sees all the proposed submissions on his desk.
PENI BEN TE'O: And he will take care of the needs of the people of American Samoa first, before he asks for a payrise. I'm not satisfied until I see the action done. The governor has also expressed that there should be more people coming out, and fight for the right of the people.
The legislature has until the end of the month to debate and approve the bills before the current legislative session ends. The governor can choose to veto the bills, should they pass.
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