Report claims misuse of disaster preparedness money - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Report claims misuse of disaster preparedness money

American Samoa American Samoa
Gus Hannemann Gus Hannemann
Togiola Tulafono Togiola Tulafono
Birdsall Alailima Birdsall Alailima

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HAWAIINEWSNOW) - There's controversy in American Samoa. CNN reports money that was supposed to be used for disaster preparedness was instead spent on expensive perks but not a tsunami warning system.

In all 34 people died from the tsunami in American Samoa. Some of the residents we spoke with there wondered why sirens were never installed to warn people.

While we were in American Samoa late last month we saw two warning signs telling people "in case of an earthquake go to high ground." But there were no warning sirens to alert people. Now CNN says there should have been, claiming $13 million was allocated for disaster preparedness but instead of buying a tsunami system the network says the American Samoa government bought plasma televisions, expensive leather furniture and various government vehicles. CNN is also citing a former American Samoa advisor who was working on a warning system until he was fired two years ago who says the government also paid for extra personnel.

"What's the big deal, really what's the big deal? You're picking on my people, my government, the federal government to say we misused funds, don't talk to me about a violation of misuse of funds," said Gus Hannemann, who lives in Hawaii and is a former American Samoa legislator.

He says the money wasn't misused. The United States froze it before all the $13 million could be spent.

"We do things very differently and I'm not saying they're right in doing that but that's the way they do things. What makes you think that maybe what they wanted to do is make the office look good so people would be proud to work in that way," said Hannemann.

But CNN reports the money was handed out in 2003 and wasn't frozen until 2007. That's four years later and still no warning system.

"I am not going to fault them for freezing the funds these are federal funds they have oversight responsibility and they saw fit to freeze the funds," said Togiola Tulafono, American Samoa Governor, in an interview with CNN.

Meanwhile Hannemann has been organizing donations to send to American Samoa and hopes people don't feel uncomfortable about giving.

"It is going to go to the village and to the people that need it the most," said Gus Hannemann.

CNN reports the FBI is investigating why a siren system wasn't built but the FBI spokesperson here in Hawaii would not confirm nor deny an investigation and had no comment.

The local American Samoa offices in Hawaii also were not talking.

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