Parliament's $200,000 air conditioning bill
Parliament will fork out $200,000 for unexpected air conditioning costs incurred since moving into its new building in March, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly has explained.
The Legislative Assembly's Clerk, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, conceded that Parliament had a “high electricity bill”. But he said it was a result of the need for 24-hour-a-day air conditioning inside the new Parliament's monitoring room. That bill has accumulated at a rate of $20,000 plus a month.
Parliament's unexpected rising use of electricity was revealed when a supplementary budget for the Legislative Assembly was tabled and included a line item of some $210,000 for the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
Tiatia explained that the Parliament House's electricity was not included in the Government's main budget for this Financial Year as they were not sure about how to estimate the size of the bill incurred by the new building.
“The Parliament house was handed over in March and the $210,000 indicated in the supplementary budget was the bill from March until November 2019; it’s for nine months,” he said.
He told the Samoa Observer the reason the bill had reached $20,000 plus was the cost of constant air conditioning.
“The monitoring room houses the new system that mans the [Public Address] system for the building; the C.C.T.V. cameras; the electric doors, to the data collected during Parliament sessions.
“These are expensive equipment hence the need for the A.C. to operate, as recommended by experts that assessed the building.”
Tiatia was unable to confirm the cost of the “expensive equipment” and said he had not been briefed on the costs of the instruments.
He said Parliamentary authorities are now looking at ways to reduce their bill.
“This a high electricity bill no doubt, hence the need to consider the advise by the E.P.C. as to how we can reduce the electricity bill,” said Tiatia.
“The grand opening and use of the new Parliament House occurred while the [main budget estimates] was being finalised and, at the time, an estimate on electricity usage was not available to justify [its] insertion into the budget.
"The [new] supplementary budget for 2019-2020 [Financial Year}: that is tabled in Parliament.
The Maota Fono, described as iconic, modern and a cost effective building, was jointly funded by the government of Australia and Samoa, costing more than $25 million.
The $6.5 million approved budget for the 2019-2020 Financial Year, a total of $2.1 million in operating costs for the Legislative Assembly and $1.1 million "transactions on behalf of state" that largely relate to activities such as "capacity building" and "awareness" campaigns.
A $200,000 fund is also allocated for political parties in the Legislative Assembly. Tiatia has explained there is only one officially recognised party in Parliament, the ruling Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).
”The allocation for political parties is a one line item and it’s an appropriation to assist political parties with their developments,” Tiatia said.
“Since there is only one recognised political party, an equal distribution of this fund is disbursed to every Member of Parliament including the three Independent members on an annual basis to assist with their electorates.”
There are currently 50 Members of Parliament, which means each member takes a share of $4,000 from the $200,000.
That benefit is one of the bigger expenses included under the Legislative Assembly's budget, aside from its rent and daily operation costs.
Other benefits that M.Ps are entitled to include the cost of gifts when Members of Parliament and former Members of Parliament pass away.
Current and former Cabinet Ministers are entitled to $10,000, while ordinary current and former M.P.s are entitled to $6,000. A total fund of $60,000 has been appropriated in the current financial year for these gifts.