Sunday, January 30, 2005

Obstructing Accountability Results in Lack Thereof

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, released a report on American Samoa’s level of accountability for key federal grants on Jan 18. These monies paid for the territory’s infrastructure improvements to airports and roads, technical assistance, education programs, nutrition assistance and universal health care. The ASG didn’t fare well. The local government has been condemned as a “high-risk grantee.” It’s about time.

This all comes at a time when the administration and our congressional representative vehemently oppose the Territorial Auditor’s Office (TAO) in reestablishing the Government Comptroller (GC) in American Samoa. George Webster, department head of the TAO, believes that his office lacks the autonomy, funding and powers necessary to carry out his accounting duties and that a GC will be more capable of combating government corruption and abuse.

Taimane Johnson, president of Common Cause, stated in 2004 that not only is the Territory Auditor “understaffed and under budgeted, but he is stymied by uncooperative administration officials who are either afraid or unwilling to provide audit information." According to Samoa News, “Webster wrote an open letter in which he said that there have been several instances where audit requests by the Territorial Audit Office (TAO) have been ‘blocked.’"

Faleomavaega’s opposes Webster’s request of the Department of Interior, which has jurisdiction over American Samoa, on the basis that the TAO attempt “is unwarranted and subverts the efforts of ASG to develop into a fully-functioning, self-governing entity." That will not happen, congressman, if the ASG can’t even keep accountability of federal awards, which according to the GAO, makes up 45 percent of the territory’s operating budget.

The report’s condemnation results from failure on the part of the ASG to conduct its single audit reports for fiscal years 1998-2001 and “instances of theft and fraud,” which have resulted in several convictions in federal courts located in Hawaii. Our congressional representative believes that the TAO has sufficient powers to correct these mistakes and that federal oversight from Office of Insular Affairs provides a “foundation in handling financial management issues" in the territory, which amounts from little to no direct involvement by the Feds. Practically, what Faleomavaega wants is to maintain the status quo, which produced not a single single audit in a three-year period and convictions of four ASG officials for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government of federal monies. Obviously, the status quo in and of itself warrants the demand for the reestablishment of a GC.

Our congressional representative can take his pleas and his attempts to stir up of feelings of nationalism elsewhere. If the ASG wants less federal involvement in local affairs, then it is only fair that Washington give less federal aid.


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