pacificEyeWitness is undergoing some big changes and revamping the site. About time, we thought!
To search for posts submitted before April 2010, you can search and read them right here using the search button.
Thanks for your patience. If you want to stay informed of our changes and new postings, subscribe to our site. Thanks to our readers for visiting us!
Child Sex Abuse Inquiries Extend to Pacific As Police Investigate NZ School Principal; Hotline Set UpPosted: December 19, 2009
New Zealand media report this morning:
The investigation into a Wellington school principal accused of molesting six boys has spread to Thailand, Europe and across the Pacific.
“We have numerous witnesses to see and will undertake these inquiries over coming months,” he said. “Although there are still many more inquiries to complete, it is likely that further charges will be laid.”
Richard Fallowfield Joel, 61, principal of Rewa Rewa School in Newlands, is facing 41 child abuse charges and police say it is likely more charges will be laid.
A detective is flying to a Pacific country this week and inquiries are being conducted in Thailand where Joel was known to regularly holiday.
Inquiry head Detective Inspector Mike Arnerich thanked those who had provided information so far.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets guests after he signed an executive order restoring the White House Advisory Commission and Inter-agency Working Group to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the East Room of the White House in Washington on October 14, 2009. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom. Content © 2009 Newscom All rights reserved.
The former head of US Insular Affairs, the department which oversaw American Samoa, is backing whistleblower Lei’ataualesa Birdsall V. Ala’ilima. Until 2007, Ala’ilima served as the head of American Samoa’s Homeland Security.
In a private email to Ala’ilima, sent after seeing the CNN investigation which blew the lid on American Samoan government corruption, David Cohen, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, wrote the following:
Subject: CNN Report
Hope you’re well. Good to see you, even if only on TV. That CNN report was something. I hope that this is an opportunity for you to vindicate yourself once and for all. It was always very frustrating that the folks at DHS(Department of Homeland Security), who knew the real deal, could only defend you in private. What a tragic mess that so many deaths could have been prevented.
Meanwhile, Ala’ilima, who has a son and daughter-in-law about to be deployed to Afghanistan, is currently embroiled in legal action against the American Samoan Government after he was fired as Homeland Security Director in 2007. His departure from the Office is one of the issues of contention between Ala’ilima and the government who deny that he was ever fired. Interestingly, whatever you call it, it happened soon after Ala’ilima blew the whistle on the Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor’s improper drawdown of homeland security funding. That whistleblowing by Ala’ilima resulted in federal funds being frozen. To read related email, click here.
As reported in a previous story, those funds, which American Samoa Homeland Security never saw, was specifically earmarked for tsunami preparedness. That included an island-wide emergency tsunami siren system. American Samoa Homeland Security, however, never received the funds.
Official records – correspondence between Governor Togiola Tulafono, US Department of Homeland Security and American Samoa Homeland Security – highlight repeated, but failed, efforts by the US Adminstration to get American Samoa’s Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor to return funds to homeland security. But they ignored the command from their funders. And those funds were never restored to homeland security.
As a result, federal funds for disaster preparedness were frozen. No island-wide emergency tsunami siren was ever installed on American Samoa. Documents cited – such as testing results, and agreements to purchase and install the sirens – show the work was in the pipeline. Then on Tuesday 29th September, the worst case scenario, a destructive tsunami destroyed villages in American Samoa killing 34 people, according to the official count. That catastrophic event has forever changed the landscape of the islands and also the hearts of those who lost loved ones, lost their homes and lost their livelihoods.
In a CNN interview aired in October, the Governor denied any knowledge of a viable plan for the tsunami plan.
“There was a study, I believe, but never a plan for a system,” the governor said. “I was trying to get verification of what happened to that system, but I could not get the definite information.”
We have contacted Governor Tulafono, the Governor’s Representative Evelyn Langford, and the current Homeland Security Director Mike Sala for further comment. No response.
Despite their silence, official records – and the fabricated story sent to us by Sala on behalf of Governor Tulafono- paint a strong picture of an American Samoan administration who acts above the law.
Ala’ilima, however, has sent us a reply and we post his response in full below. The only editing applied to his response below is adding subheadings and editor’s notes:
Lei’ataualesa Birdsall V. Ala’ilima
Former head of American Samoa’s Homeland Security
Statement to PEW(pacificEyeWitness.org)
Federal grant funds deposited in the American Samoa Government (ASG) treasury general fund are used to pay for unauthorized ASG expenses. This practice puts all federal projects in jeopardy as treasury struggles to cover up over inflated payrolls and mismanaged programs. This practice is well documented in independent audit reports over the past two decades.
Generally, ASG’s response to these critical audit findings is to acknowledge the issues and claim to be working towards resolution but in reality nothing changes.
US Agencies Turn A Blind Eye to Corruption American Samoa
Federal agencies have generally turned a blind eye to these concerns primarily because American Samoa ’s award amounts are insignificant in the overall scheme of things and the cost associated with enhanced monitoring is deemed too high to warrant the expenditure for individual agency programs. Unfortunately federal agencies adopting this excuse fail to carry out their fiduciary responsibility to the American tax payer and by sheer negligence perpetuate the mismanagement and corrupt practices in the territory at all government levels.
Bribery: A Standard Government Business Practice
Emboldened by the lack of transparency or repercussions, officials would often accede to subtle and overt acts of bribery as a standard government business practice. The question “what’s in it for me?” became a motto for such unsavory characters in authority which then infects those who serve below them. It goes without saying that once an individual succumbs to these corrupt practices they are “hooked” into a vicious cycle and subject to further exploitation by those with knowledge. Unchecked, unethical individuals caught up in this cycle freely abuse their authority to enrich and/or advance themselves in government without regard to either the law or the public interest they are sworn to serve.
Abuse of Power: Using “FBI” Name to Secure False Stop Order & False Media Statement
Mr. Mike Sala, a senior law enforcement/security official in the current administration is a classic case in point. He used the name of the FBI to secure a false “stop order” to keep me from flying off island as all these events were unfolding. He violated a fundamental constitutional right and then issued a false statement to the media. Yet nothing has been done to hold him responsible.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our own experience dealing with Mike Sala, the American Samoa Homeland Security Director who replaced Ala’ilima, supports what Ala’ilima states here. Sala lied to our media outlet in official correspondence sending us a story he dishonestly claimed was written and published by Samoa News. We did not publish the story once we verified that he was lying. When we emailed back to Sala, Governor Tulafono and Evelyn Langford, as to why they lied, no response at all.
Lack of Accountability of People in Authority
Again, the overarching problem here is that people in authority are not held accountable for their actions. In a small tight knit community, it’s easy to understand why corruption readily infects all levels of the administration, legislature and to some extent the local judicial system. There must be consistent and effective program oversight. In this environment, and without an effective system of checks and balances in place, one can appreciate the challenges facing the well intentioned federal programs.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This issue of accountability has also been noted by our outlet. We have found the Governor’s office staff including its Communications Director Jacinta Galeai, and the Cabinet, refusing to respond to our recent questions.
Creating A Separate Account
During my tenure with Public Works we had similar financial issues with Federal Highway (FHWA) accounts in the general funds. DPW and FHWA agreed to establish a separate fund account with Bank of Hawaii to channel highway grants. To this day, this system has worked well and FHWA road projects no longer languish in jeopardy for lack of timely payments to contractors. Engineers can now focus on the technical challenges of projects and not become embroiled in resolving financial issues.
I recommended to the governor to establish a similar account specifically for DHS grant funds.
This was one of the recommendations US DHS references in their email to the governor dated January 19, 2007 concerning the reason for the funding suspension. Unfortunately, the governor did not support this recommendation (and other key recommendations to enhance accountability) or see it as an avenue to correct the problem within treasury.
Sala’s Dishonest Work In Action
Instead, he chose to place the responsibility for emergency preparedness under Mr. Sala who then “fired” the entire TOHS staff blaming them for the mismanagement of the DHS funds. By doing this, Mr. Sala removed all persons with knowledge of both emergency preparedness and he took control of all DHS funding to the territory.
In addition to the DHS letter to the governor that explains the reason for funding suspension, it should be noted that Mr. Sala and treasury had 90 days to respond to a preliminary audit report that came out just prior to my termination. To this day they have still not submitted an official audit response. This led to an extension of the federal suspension.
During my tenure I had a very good working relationship with personnel from the US DHS. We were working through concerns that arose because of issues unique to our territory. Mr. Sala got rid of all the dedicated employees who were intimately familiar with the program. He points to the audit review as his rationale for terminating my employment, but he fails to point out that the findings were preliminary in nature and that he himself has never responded to the audit. Obviously, it is in his interest to point to specific audit findings to justify his actions.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Official correspondence cited support Ala’ilima’s statement on who was responsible for the misuse of homeland security funds. Those funds never reached Ala’ilima’s department. Sala’s actions to terminate the homeland security employees is at odds with the official correspondence from the Department of Homeland Security which lays the blame squarely with American Samoa Treasurer and the Lieutenant Governor. The Governor during this period was on medical leave. He was, however, kept informed. His own response reveals that he was aware of the actions taken by his office. Yet he does not question it.
I prepared a response to the program findings of the audit and submitted the document unofficially to DHS even after my termination. Even then I hoped that I could provide information to the US DHS which would resolve their issues. However, I could not respond to most of the financial concerns which could only be answered by treasury. Draw downs were being made without my authorization by the lieutenant governor to pay a wide variety of people not affiliated with the program in any way. The emails I have provided between DHS and the governor clearly state this. I also understand when the ASG treasury comptroller abruptly terminated his employment contract last year with ASG, he handed over to DHS and the FBI digital file copies of treasury records. It is far past time that federal agencies need to take action.
Abandoned by US Government Officials
I am certainly appreciative of the assistance the FBI provided in ensuring the safety of me and my family members until we were able to leave the territory. However, it is still a mystery to me why US DHS refused to clear up the issues and protect my reputation in this whole sordid affair. My written requests to USDHS went unanswered and I felt a strong sense of abandonment.
Given what has been revealed over the past twenty years and the growing public outrage in the territory, it is unconscionable that the federal government continues to send money to the islands to be lumped into a general fund. A simple accounting practice with specific grant monies placed in separate accounts to be used for specific purposes only would have solved virtually all of this.
If This Happened In A U.S.A State(Not A Territory)…Missing Funds…Terrorising
If this sad and tragic episode were happening in some small town in any of the fifty states I am positive there would be significantly greater exposure and outrage, and the federal government would have stepped in and clamped down on local corruption.
When you have a group of high level local government officials carrying out lawless behavior while manipulating and terrorizing a community, it becomes the responsibility of federal law enforcement and the US justice system to do something about it. For all money that has “gone missing” in the Territory, the U.S. DOJ has one relatively minor case of procurement fraud pending. That case involves allegations from over five years ago. When the federal government wants to clean up corruption or wrongdoing, it is well capable of doing so.
Whether it is mafia and gangster corruption in large cities, or civil rights violations in small towns of the South, the federal government has done significant good when motivated. Federal law enforcement bears a significant responsibility in controlling crime, particularly in matters where federal funds are involved and a contributing factor to the cause. All the more so when local law enforcement is impotent, and all the more so when thousands of innocent civilians are directly suffering. Simply stated, “Dangle candy in front of children, and they will bite and bite again until an effective parent says, “No more!” There is virtual impunity on the island. It is in many ways a lawless place.
Cancelled Hearings Highlights Lack of Accountability
Until people are held accountable in a way that directly affects them, they will continue to violate the law. The recent cancellation of the House hearings on disaster preparedness is a glaring example an administration answering to no one and the inability of local government to police itself.
Much of the corruption on island can be readily tracked through paper trails, but it takes federal resolve and commitment to see it through. Even minimal but motivated manpower could go a long way toward effectively clamping down hard on corruption and mismanagement in the territory. Even a few agents and Assistant United States Attorneys dedicated to cleaning up the corruption could get a considerable amount done. Those involved would learn very quickly that there will be consequences for their illegal actions. These agents need to be well educated about Samoa ’s unique island culture, history and value system. Above all else, they need to be highly motivated to clean up corruption and provide the citizens a level of protection they deserve.
To continue turning a blind eye is disenfranchising the people of American Samoa of the freedoms and rights guaranteed under the United States constitution. The desperate need for the federal government to intervene is also underlined by the complete lack of commitment on the part of the Territory’s representative in Congress to do anything.
Four Key Recommendations
I would recommend four federal actions that are clearly cost effective and simple.
1. The US Department of the Interior as the primary agency for oversight management in the territory should expand their presence in American Samoa to include a federal grants office. The office should be responsible to receive and distribute all federal grants to the territory and ensure that the uses are in compliance with appropriate federal regulations. This grants office would be empowered to seek civil recovery of grant funds from the ASG and individuals who have been found to have improperly received federal money and to refer to the federal Department of Justice information on any individuals who it believes may have engaged in criminal activity involving the misuse of federal funds.
2. All federal grants to the territory should be conditioned to effective local and federal “whistleblower” legislation. No one should be exposed to retaliation nor should they have to sacrifice their livelihood and family’s safety when reporting fraud, waste and abuse to proper authority. A very effective part of whistle blowing legislation is a right for the whistleblower to receive compensation based on the amount saved to either the ASG or the federal government.
3. The FBI should expand their presence in the territory to manage and investigate reported cases involving fraud, waste and abuse. Local law enforcement is highly suspect and has lost public credibility. The FBI should also train the public and ASG employees in proper reporting procedures for matters concerning fraud, waste and abuse. The US DOJ must take responsibility for aggressively investigating and prosecuting corruption and it must be done in a serious and timely fashion.
4. The federal court system should expand their authority to prosecute and adjudicate fraud, waste and abuse cases involving federal funds in the territory.
The recommendations would certainly control corruption in the territory. I am also a realist when I say corruption in American Samoa will never be eliminated because there will always be people trying to game the system. However, we can control the distribution of funds in such a way as to hold these people accountable and minimize the ability of persons attempting to game the system to the extent that it impacts the safety and welfare of the community as it did in the recent tsunami.
Clearing A Man’s Name: Fa’amausili Pola
A lot of innocent people in Territorial Office of Homeland Security and the Territorial Emergency Management Coordinating Office (TEMCO) suffered both in their reputation and their employment because of this political charade to cover up improper actions by top government people.
Former TEMCO Director Fa’amausili Pola testified before the Senate Select Investigating Committee (SSIC) and stated truthfully that it was the Lt. Governor, his deputy director and the ASG treasurer who were responsible for the abuse of federal funds that resulted in the suspension.
The following day, Fa’amausili was arrested and charged with 101 counts of fraud. Regrettably, this courageous former Marine passed away before he had the opportunity to clear his name in court and sadly his family has not had the closure they deserve from this sordid affair. It was obvious the SSIC was not prepared to hear the truth behind the matter they were investigating. Even more tragically, people died or were injured because the overly-broad firing of trained personnel with the knowledge of the programs back in March of 2007.
This stopped the deployment of a very critical part of the warning system, the sirens and wasted significant federal investment into the territory. American Samoa needs politicians who seek the correct information to address the real problems and not just try to confuse the issues, find convenient innocent scapegoats and sweep problems under the rug. The people are not buying this anymore.
American Samoans are not second or third class citizens and we deserve a local government that responds to the needs of the people. Tragically this is not happening, and the lives of men, women, children, and elderly are affected every day. Much of this has finally gained attention because thirty four people died horrific and unnecessary deaths on September 29.
Will someone not hear their voices which cry out for justice?
Part 4: American Samoa Telco’s Role in Not Installing Island-Wide Tsunami
Part 3: Who Authorised Federal Funds Be Diverted Away from Tsunami Preparedness American Samoa?
Part 2: Former Homeland Security Rebutts Claims by Governor; Hearing Cancelled Again
Latest: Whistleblower Answers Accusations From American Samoa Governor’s Office
Radio Australia Interview: Joey Cummings, General Manager, South Seas Broadcasting, American Samoa
Full Transcript: Cnn Investigative Report on American Samoa Misuse of Federal Funds
CNN Report: Part 2
CNN Report: Part 1
Editor’s Note: After listening to the Radio Australia interview, it’s clear that both the interviewer and Cummings either did not have access to the same official correspondence, or other official sources, to verify information provided by the Governor. Or they choose not to refer to it. Either way, this interview does not answer the question as to why Governor Togiola Tulafono denied knowledge of the emergency tsunami siren system. And why, despite official correspondence, and official sources, pointing the finger squarely at American Samoa’s Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor for the draw-down and misuse of homeland security funds, that is never raised in the interview. Instead, this interview wrongly gives the impression that the Governor had a legitimate right to point the finger at Ala’ilima.
Quite the contrary.
Ala’ilima, from official correspondence we have cited, and other sources, make it clear that Ala’ilima was unfairly targeted, used as a scapegoat, and wrongly and deliberately fingerpointed by Governor Tulafono and his Cabinet members. That is the only conclusion we can reach from the facts presented to us. Since Ala’ilima had himself tried to get the Governor’s Cabinet to comply and return homeland security funds, the paper trail shows a deliberate attempt by Governor Tulafono and Sala to create a misleading impression on the role that Ala’ilima played in this. That is, until the CNN report aired in October this year, their finger pointing, continued by the current Homeland Security Director Mike Sala, has had the unsavoury effect of silencing government critics.
We hope our coverage goes some way to helping to set the public record straight and right some wrongs deliberately committed against the names of those targetted by people in positions of power and authority in American Samoa. That the stories we have posted so far will give American Samoans the courage to speak up loudly and bravely to the White House Obama Administration to demand an open, transparent, and accountable government in American Samoa: for the people, by the people.
Updated 31st December 2009: This particular story, corruption in American Samoa, continues to attract the ire of John Wasko of Tutuila. His defensive comments, that ignore any questions put to him throughout our “experience” of him, reveal a bizarre loyalty towards those who govern corruptly in Tutuila. We leave you to draw your own conclusions on John Wasko and his motives. From our position, he has consistently refused to answer questions put to him from PEW. Until Wasko does, and tells us what his connections are to the Governor and other members of the Cabinet, we won’t be wasting any more time responding to his defensive tirades that support corruption in Tutuila.
This is part of an ongoing series on American Samoa post-tsunami and its disaster preparedness. In October, CNN broadcast a damning report on American Samoa’s misuse of federal funds intended for tsunami preparedness. Close to $23 million worth of funds to help the citizens.
On Tuesday 29th September 2009, in the early hours of the morning, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck the islands of American Samoa, Samoa and the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. That earthquake triggered a destructive tsunami that killed close to 200 people on the official death count across all three islands. American Samoa’s official death toll, although no casualty list released, states 34 died; Samoa released an official casualty list of more than 140 dead including at least 70 children no older than 11 years old; Niuatoputapu lost 9 people including a child and an infant.
There was no island-wide emergency tsunami siren on that horrific day. America Samoa, though not releasing a casualty list citing patient privacy laws, state that 34 lives were lost.
The loss of lives on American Samoa prompted CNN to ask questions about where the millions of dollars of disaster preparedness . Those misused funds were inapprorpriately drawn down by the Treasurer of American Samoa, and the Governor’s Authorised Representative(GAR). They continually ignored express direction from both the US Administration and Ala’ilima to return funds to the homeland security budget.
One of the key players, who has perhaps displayed a degree of negligence in this tragedy, is American Samoa Telecommunications Agency. Despite signing a Memorandum of Understanding with American Homeland Security, prior to funds being frozen, they did not buy let alone install the island-wide emergency tsunami siren. Yet official records show in this box that they signed a document but failed to carry it out.
Below are the final installation of responses between Governor Tulafono’s Cabinet and the former Homeland Security Director reveal a wide difference between each one’s understanding and comprehension of the issues involved, and exactly what happened or didn’t happen.
GOVERNOR/SALA: On matters related to the sirens, Sala said that when he came on board, he found evidence of a study which had been done for an island-wide siren system. He agreed with the governor’s remarks to CNN that “it was only a study.”
AlA’ILIMA: This was way more than a study. The Territorial Office of Homeland Security had already entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) in May 2006 to purchase and install the sirens…In the memorandum it was clearly stated that the installation of the sirens was a top priority for the American Samoa Government and DHS funding was approved for the project before my termination.
GOVERNOR/SALA:A facilities manager at American Samoa Telco, who asked not to be identified, verified that it did order one siren, based on a survey done in 2006. “To date, ASTCA has not been paid for the one siren which was ordered for a test, he said. A full warning system was never delivered, per the ASTCA official.
AlA’ILIMA:Mr. Sala has obviously not read the Memorandum of Understanding. This was recognized as a top priority matter for the American Samoa Government and American Samoa Telecommunications Authority obligated itself to finance and install the sirens and then to seek reimbursement. Given that the Memorandum…was signed before the freezing of the funds, American Samoa Telco as an independent government agency could have followed the agreement, installed the sirens and then sought the contract reimbursement.
GOVERNOR/SALA: The Emergency Alert System is a separate matter. “We have the emergency alarm system, continued Sala, but NOAA was unable to deliver the EAS warning system equipment in a timely manner, after $250,000 had been advanced to them in 2004 to deliver the product.
AlA’ILIMA:As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Sala does not understand the development and integration of the Emergency Alert Systems. He also does not comprehend the problems we were working through with NOAA. The federal Department of Homeland Security was concerned about using the territory’s homeland security funds to buy NOAA equipment because NOAA, as a federal agency, had its own separate funding for homeland security. American Samoa, however, did not have an existing alert system like the individual US states already had before 9/11 with their own tie in to NOAA.
If we were to make the connection, we needed to pay for the equipment and give it to NOAA. This was the basis of our Memorandum of Understanding with NOAA. I am pleased to hear that FEMA recently agreed that such a system was warranted and that the NOAA option we invested into was the most cost effective alternative .This was a manageable federal issue but it required someone who understood the problem, which clearly Mr. Sala did not and apparently still does not after two and a half years on the job.
No response from Governor Tulafono or his Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Langford. FEMA, after initially posting a comment on the website which we replied with a request to correct our stories if need be, have not responded further. Ongoing silence from US agencies responsible for federal funding in American Samoa.
We will continue to follow this story and keep you posted on any developments.
Early this morning NZ Time, pacificEyeWitness watched a moving speech, live on BBC, by Ireland’s Justice Minister on how the Catholic church and state agencies dealt with allegations of child abuse against 46 priests from 1975 to 2004. It was a damning report against the Church and state agencies. The Minister called on victims to come forward so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice and held accountable.
“I read the report as Justice Minister. But on a human level, as a father and as a member of this community. As I read it, I felt a growing sense of revulsion and anger. Revulsion at the horrible evil acts committed against young children. Anger at how those children were then dealt with and how often abusers were left free to abuse. But the white heat of our anger should not for one minute deflect us from what needs to be done. Persons who committed these dreadful crimes, no matter when they happened, will continue to be pursued. They must come to know that there will be no hiding place. That justice, even where it may have been delayed, will not be denied. There’s a clear duty on all of us to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent such abuse happening into the future. And if it does happen, that no-one is above or beyond the law.
Irish Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, speaking this morning to a packed press conference in Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »
This is part of an ongoing series on American Samoa post-tsunami and its disaster preparedness. On Tuesday 29th September 2009, in the early hours of the morning, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck the islands of American Samoa, Samoa and the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu.
That earthquake triggered a destructive tsunami that killed close to 200 people on the official death count across all three islands. American Samoa’s official death toll, although no casualty list released, states 34 died; Samoa released an official casualty list of more than 140 dead including at least 70 children no older than 11 years old; Niuatoputapu lost 9 people including a child and an infant.
That catastrophic event has forever changed the landscape of the islands and also the hearts of those who have lost loved ones, lost their homes and lost their livelihoods. It is estimated that it will take years for the people to recover emotionally and psychologically from this national trauma.
The loss of lives on American Samoa prompted reporters to ask questions about where the millions of dollars of disaster preparedness funding went. American Samoa had no island-wide tsunami emergency siren on the day of the tsunami. The Governor’s office, through its Homeland Security Director Mike Sala, has provided lengthy responses to justify why it wasn’t needed on the day. That the nation was prepared on the day for the tsunami. Others disagree and that’s where we kick off today.
After the CNN investigation blew the lid on corruption in the American Samoa Government, we later received a fabricated “story” from the Governor’s office purporting to be a story published and written by Samoa News. The current Homeland Security Director for American Samoa, Mike Sala, said in an email that a Teri Hunkin was writing a story with him. He had cc’d Teri into the email sent to pacificEyeWitness.org. Teri Hunkin is a copy editor for Samoa News.
The “story”, among other things, pointed the finger at the former Homeland Security Director, Lei’ataualesā Birdsall Ala’ilima. We have, however, spoken to others and cited official correspondence that supports Ala’ilima’s version of events. Governor Togiola Tulafono and his then Lieutenant Governor, along with the Treasurer of American Samoa, were responsible for inappropriately drawing down homeland security funds intended for disaster preparedness. That is why on Tuesday 29th September, there was no island-wide tsunami emergency siren to warn the people.
They spent the money on other things and refused to comply with any instructions from US authorities to return the funds to the office of Homeland Security, which at that time was under the direction of Ala’ilima.
Yet despite all his rhetoric and speeches to young American Samoans at graduation time about honesty, Governor Tulafono and his Cabinet seems unable to hold itself accountable to the people. If Governor Tulafono did so, he, and his Cabinet, would have turned up for the Emergency Preparedness Hearings organised by the House in American Samoa this week. Yet each time, twice so far, the Governor and his Cabinet have found reasons to not attend.
Now we’ll follow more of the paper trail.
Who oversees and manages federal funds firsthand in American Samoa?
The Treasurer of American Samoa under the authorisation of the Governor or in his place, the Lieutenant Governor, or GAR Governor’s Authorised Representative.
With the disaster preparedness funds designated for American Samoa, what happened there?
In an email dated 19th January 2007, an official with America Homeland Security wrote to Governor Togiola Tulafono to express concern at the drawdown of homeland security funds by the Treasurer.
…the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was notified that the American Samoa Treasury, authorized by the Lt. Governor, executed drawdown of DHS Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funds to pay the salaries of personnel not affiliated with this program.
This drawdown of emergency management funds to pay other personnel was done without the knowledge of its then Homeland Security Director, Lei’ataualesā Birdsall Ala’ilima.
Once Ala’ilima found out, he asked Treasurer to reinstate the emergency funding. To jog your memory, these are the funds that were intended for disaster preparedness in the event of a tsunami. But the American Samoa Government simply continued to ignore the authority of Homeland Security to stay away from those funds.
Instead, the American Samoa Treasurer, authorised by the Governor’s office, continued to blatantly misuse funds. They were simply a law unto themselves. They ignored a request from their own Homeland Security Director, Ala’ilima. They also ignored a direct command from US officials. That hints at the degree of sheer arrogance from the Governor and his Administration.
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was notified that the American Samoa Treasury, authorized by the Lt. Governor, executed drawdown of DHS Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funds to pay the salaries of personnel not affiliated with this program… The first event occurred on or about 15 December. Mr. Ala’ilima, when he became aware of this chain of events, requested that the Treasurer reinstate those funds to the EMPG accounts. Austerity measures (locally) were drafted by TOHS Director Mr. Ala’ilima in an attempt to once again remind everyone of the parameters of the “In Lieu of High Risk” letter ASG agreed to, dated 6 January, 2006. To our dismay, DHS was notified that the Lt. Governor and the Treasurer once again authorized a second draw down for similar purposes during the week of January 10. Subsequently, a chain of events unfolded to rapidly “freeze” all DHS funding to ASG until an audit between the ASG Treasury and DHS Office of Grant Operations can be conducted.
No Option But to Freeze Emergency Preparedness Funding
Finally, Department of Homeland Security was left with no option but to freeze all homeland security funding. That is very clear from a reading of official correspondence and talking to those familiar with American Samoa governance. Before funds were frozen, however, US authorities commended Ala’ilima to the Governor for this actions in trying to get the Treasury to reinstate the funds:
Mr. Ala’ilima has worked valiantly to promote the TOHS mission and align DHS practices and policies with the Homeland Security Grant Program Guidance, to ensure enhanced capabilities are the end result. Unfortunately, there are procurement delays, contractual authority, and several other factors that continually challenge TOHS from executing the program accordingly.
The Governor’s response to this official rebuke?
In a message dated 1/16/2007 12:57:22 PM Hawaiian Standard Time, [ ]writes:
Many of the recommendations you have outlined below mirror the recommendations that have been brought before ASG leadership previously. I am hopeful that this recent travesty results in swift overhaul of current practices and becomes the catalyst to promote positive change to the TOHS endeavors — Protecting the American Samoa Citizens from Terrorism and Catastrophic Disaster. Your recommendations are sound, necessary, and long overdue.
Mr [ ], can you elaborate more for me about this paragraph of your email to Lei’ataua please. Particularly, the statements highligted above.
Finally, one direct question in this matter: What are the particular reasons for the shut down in the fundings for Homeland Security for American Samoa?
The Governor’s response is somewhat bizarre given the detailed explanations and warnings given previously. Instead of admitting wrong, there is a tone of belligerence and arrogance in his response. It is clear he did not appreciate the help Ala’ilima may have provided US Authorities in uncovering the misuse of funds that were being diverted away from disaster preparedness. Ala’ilima later lost his job. That has to be a most costly price to pay for those who perished on Tuesday 29th September 2009.
The Role of the Governor’s Authorized Representative, a post currently held by Evelyn Vaitautolu-Langford.
She is the second in command in American Samoa. Since the role of the GAR or the Governor’s Authorized Representative is a powerful one, we wanted to know about the current levels of responsibility for federal funds and in particular emergency preparedness funding. We sent questions to Evelyn Vaitautolu-Langford who currently holds the role. But no response as yet.
Next Friday: We look at the Memorandum of Understanding signed by American Samoa Government and the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority. This Samoa Telco was responsible for installing an island-wide tsunami emergency siren, that never happened.
New Zealand Labour Party
27 October 2009
Mangere MP Warns Community To Look Out for Each Other
Labour MP for Mangere, Su’a William Sio says he wants the whole community to be vigilant and look out for each other while the police are investigating a series of possibly related sexual attacks on young children and young women in and around Cape Road and Mascot Avenue Mangere.
“Mangere needs to come together like a village and look out for each other until this sex offender is apprehended and incarcerated,” says Su’a William Sio.
“We all need to be particularly careful leading up to Halloween at the end of this week, and make sure that children are accompanied by an adult and young people are in safe groups of people they know and trust.
“The offending behaviour by this predator is completely deplorable.
“I’m appealing to our community to work with the Police and provide any information that can assist their investigation.
The Police have a what I understand is a 24 hour, seven days a week number in Manukau – (09) 261-1300, but if ever in doubt call 111.
This disturbing video was recently aired in the USA. I’ve posted it here because the issues of schoolyard and schoolkid fights, and the growing incidence of violence among students, is a concern in many countries, not just the USA. May this be a salutary lesson to any who think this is cool. It isn’t. A boy died as a result. His death was preventatable. What is equally disturbing is the attitude of the videographer who shoot it.
The TV Network who aired the story issued an explanation this week as to why they bought and aired the video from the videographer, a student. Four Chicago teenagers have since been arrested and charged.
If you’re in the Pacific region, you won’t hear much on mainstream or ethic-specific media about this fight. But Colombia, or at least the areas controlled by drug gangs, has been in a civil war for more than 30 years. For the last 15 years, the following notice declares the official status of United States relationship with Colombia.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 16, 2009
- – - – - – -
CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO
SIGNIFICANT NARCOTICS TRAFFICKERS CENTERED IN COLOMBIA
On October 21, 1995, by Executive Order 12978, thePresident declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia, and the extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm such actions cause in the United States and abroad.
Because the actions of significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States and to cause an extreme level of violence, corruption, and harm in the United States and abroad, the national emergency declared on October 21, 1995, and the measures adopted pursuant thereto to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond October 21, 2009. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to significant narcotics traffickers centered in Colombia.
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
October 16, 2009.
If you are interested in this topic, download the following publication by clicking on the title:
If you have any information please call the hotline: 0800 4 Aisling (0800 4 2475 464)
Aisling has been missing for over a week today. This child needs to be found. Help find her. She needs to be home with her parents. If you know anyone, who has had anything to do with her disappearance, do the right thing and call the New Zealand police at the hotline on 0800 4275464.
Please call the HOTLINE f you have any information on Aisling’s disappearance.
Though we have been busy focused on the tsunami, and its devastation in Samoa, we have been closely following the sad story of two-year-old Aisling who disappeared from West Auckland, New Zealand. We thought she would have been found by now. But sadly, no.
Aisling went missing from her grandparents’ home in Longburn Rd Henderson reportedly after 5pm last Monday 5th October, 2009.
Henderson Police are continuing their search for Aisling [pronounced Ashling] Symes after she went missing from an address in Longburn Road, Henderson Monday 5 October at about 5.30pm.
Aisling is aged two years. She is a tall girl for her age, of European appearance, with light brown hair.
Aisling is believed to be wearing green parka jacket or ski jacket, blue jeans embroidered with flowers, and has white tennis shoes on her feet.
Police are eager to hear from anyone who has information about the disappearance of Aisling Symes. Please call the hotline if you have any information.