Faleomavaega today announced that after consultations with leaders and members of the Fono and the public, he has given full support on amending a certain provision in American Samoa’s constitution to give the Fono an equal say on the process of passage and overriding the Governor’s veto power.
“As it currently stands, our Fono is really nothing more than an advisory body within our local legislative process,” Faleomavaega said. “Under our constitution, the Fono is given a chance to override the Governor’s veto by a two-thirds majority of both houses. But, it is totally meaningless since the Governor can then submit the bill with his comments to the Secretary of Interior who then makes the final decision. Understandably, this procedure was established in the beginning since at that time and until 1977 we had appointed Governors. But unfortunately, our constitution has not been amended to reflect the fundamental change that occurred in 1977 when American Samoa was finally given the opportunity to elect its own governor.”
“A clear example of the current situation is that every year Congress appropriates approximately $33 million specifically to assist with both the operations of our local government and also capital improvement projects. In the budget process, the Fono is never given any input on how these funds should be spent – and more importantly, based upon the principles of ‘checks and balance,’ while the governor has the power to veto a bill that he feels should not be passed, his veto can then be challenged and can be overridden by a 2/3 majority vote of both the Senate and House – and this system of over-riding the governor’s veto not only puts a ‘check’ on the authority of the governor, but it also provides a sense of ‘balance’ of power between the legislative (Fono) and the executive (Governor) branches of our local government,” Faleomavaega added.
“For all these past years, it was my understanding that these funds are always brought before the Governor and the Fono to determine how they should be allocated. I purposely did not want to earmark these funds since I deferred to our local government to make such decisions. But instead, the final decision on how these federal funds are allocated is done between the governor and the Department of the Interior through the Office of Insular Affairs,” Faleomavaega said.
“This will also mean a complete change on the procedures for reviewing budget proposals between the governor and the Fono. As it now stands, the Fono does not receive the governor’s proposed budget for review and approval until the last three or four weeks of session before final adjournment – again putting the Fono at a complete disadvantage for calling hearings and to make proper decisions on how both federal and local funds are to be spent by ASG,” Faleomavaega said.
“My only concern is that there should have been more hearings and public education taken by our legislative and executive leaders to explain the importance of this issue. I fully support the principle behind this effort to amend our local constitution, and I hope our voters will approve the proposed amendment,” Faleomavaega concluded.