On the Campaign Trail 2012
The American Samoa Bar Association hosted a gubernatorial forum at the Governor Rex Lee Auditorium this past Tuesday, where issues about the death penalty, election of senators, veto override, the increase of drug and alcohol cases in the territory, citizenship, communal land leased to government and stray dog problems were discussed.
ASBA member Reverend Asaua Fuimaono conducted the invocation and benediction. ASBA President Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei was the master of ceremonies. ASCC's Tapaau Dr. Daniel Aga was the moderator.
Five of the six gubernatorial candidates who attended the forum earlier this week were Save Liuato Tuitele, Dr. Salu Hunkin Finau, Afoa L. Su’esu’e Lutu, Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Tim Jones.
Faoa Aitofele Sunia was not present. Samoa News understands that a press release was given out by ASBA explaining the reasons for Faoa's no show. However, it was not sent to Samoa News, so we are unable to report Faoa's reason.
The gubernatorial candidates were each given three minutes, to answer either in Samoan or English.
SHOULD SENATORS BE ELECTED BY POPULAR VOTE
The first issue discussed pertained to the election of Senators and the related issue of the legislature seeking to override the Governor’s veto.
ASBA noted that according to the current administration, if the Governor is popularly voted his veto override should not be subject to the will of senators who are selected by a few people. Consequently, in order to have a true democracy the senators should be elected by popular vote not by county councils.
SAVE LIUATO TUITELE
The electing of senators, veto override and citizenship all surrounds the question of our Political Status and until that question is resolved it is very difficult to come with a definite answer. However, Save said he was part of the process of selecting a Senator from his county and village.
He noted that Chiefs speak and represent their families during meetings such as these and as a result the Chiefs select the person they feel should represent the district. Save believes that our fore fathers wanted to maintain the presence of the High Chiefs and the culture and custom in the system as part of the checks and balances in the government.
He believed the young people are challenging that selection due to some Senators failing to appear for hearings and this gives the impression to the young ones either they don’t care or they don’t appreciate what other senators are working on.
Regarding the veto, Save said the veto override should stay in the territory, instead of having the Department of Interior approve it. He added that a recent issue occurred where the request was sent for approval and a staff member of DOI signed off on it…”is that what you want for American Samoa” said Save.
Should we elect Senators….“We should put that question to the people to decide,” she said. It’s more common that we hear the young people saying that we should elect the Senators so that they would better respond to and answer to the people.
She added that our forefathers hoped that selecting senators from the counties would maintain [cultural] wisdom in the democratic process however given that it’s 2012 we should pose the question to the people.
AFOA L. SU’ESU’E LUTU
Personally, Afoa is for the election of Senators however, given the cultural impact and the history of the cultural qualification of chiefs, we should maintain those qualifications but let the people decide. Afoa said he’s for the veto override.
“As we grow throughout the 112 years we need to make sure that the people make a choice of who their senators are and who their representatives are after all, they are the people that are making the choices that impact all of us."
“I say to this question: I’m for the election of Senators however, we need to have qualifications that would meet the criteria and the intent of what our forefathers intended the [senators] chiefs to be,” said Afoa.
LOLO MATALASI MOLIGA
Lolo said as long as American Samoa maintains the status quo political status “we will never achieve a 100% Democracy”. He added that we have to understand the vision our forefathers had and why the Senate was created the way it is today.
The Senator's selection process was created to make sure that our resources, land and culture would be protected. Lolo added that the constitutional intent of what the Senate was set up is for, is because our forefathers knew from the start that when we face a difficult time, when it comes to freedom, land and resources their vision was to make sure that whatever form of government we decide to take on we have to make sure that we protect our land and all the resources.
He said if American Samoa stays unorganized and unincorporated the Senate should remain the way it is. “I am for electing the Senators provided that we have to declare our political status that way it should be a… 100% Democracy otherwise we have to be mindful of our forefathers vision to protect our land and resources”.
Jones is for electing Senators. “I don’t know any other way that a voter could be happy living in a society that doesn’t elect their legislators. I can’t imagine having somebody making laws that I have to abide by and I have no say who they are,” he said.
He explained that he understands why 112 years ago they made the senators an appointment but due to the changed American Samoa nowadays, things change and it’s time for a change.
Jones said he believes it’s time for change and to elect government officials, including Senators, the Attorney General, a Chief Justice who hold positions with power in the community. “My society in the states; we all chose our leaders and somebody chose them for you 112 years ago and I think it’s time for a change”. Jones said he’s for the veto override.
INCREASE OF DRUG AND ALCOHOL RELATED CASES
A constant concern of the court is the steady increase in drug and alcohol related cases, given that last year more than 700 cases were filed in District Court where 85%-90% cases were alcohol related or involved illegal drugs.
The lack of facilities, resources and meaningful drug and alcohol treatment programs results in high numbers of repeat offenders which puts a financial strain on the Attorney General’s office to prosecute, the Public Defender’s office to defend and the Parole Officers to monitor them.
How will your administration deal with this growing problem if you are elected to office?
Salu believes this problem is occurring due to the lack of interagency cooperation and lack of professional help for the offenders to deter them from re-offending. She noted that a commission or committee with representatives from the Department of Human Social Services, Department of Public Safety, Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office should be created and be tasked with the priority to seek funding for a facility to help victims and members of the public that have problems with drugs and alcohol. She stressed the importance of families [support] in our society.
AFOA SU’ESU’E LUTU
American Samoa needs a mental health association or body that should overlook and connect programs available for providing proper treatment for mental disorders. There should also be referrals on the mental issues.
He believes it is important that a person live a fruitful life. Also, they should be able to help themselves and maintain wellness leading to recovery.
Afoa noted the new facility undergoing construction that can accommodate these types of services. In the meantime we should use funding to seek services and the help that is needed.
LOLO MATALASI MOLIGA
Lolo responded that the issue at hand has been a problem for the past 15-20 years and he commended the Judiciary system for being proactive and addressing the problem. He added that there’s an adverse side where our culture can come in.
“It’s critical how our Samoan families and the structure of the Samoan culture has been looking after these individuals in our society and we're beginning to lose that element of responsibility within families."
"We have families and the Samoan cultural structure to take care of this critical issue. When I become governor I will make sure that we restructure our Samoan culture in a way that we take care of our people."
Jail time is not the answer to the increasing problems of drugs and alcohol related cases. He added that American Samoa has stiff drug laws from five to fifteen years in jail for a small amount marijuana.
“This is a very small territory we know who does and doesn’t do drugs, most of the time if we want to stop we could… I’m not convinced that we really want to stop,” said Jones. He added that a jail term is not a deterrent but education may eliminate the drug problem.
“Teach them in the school what drugs can do to you… be graphic about it because drugs are bad for you. “Educate them in the school, if the community is not against it,” said Jones. Jones believes if the penalties of law that put people in jail are not working, maybe education will work.
He noted that a mental health facility is needed in the territory and the Chief Justice is very frustrated with what he does with people who are mentally disabled. He added that government mental facilities are not great places to be. Maybe privatizing it and have the churches involved would work.
SAVE LIUATO TUITELE
As a community, as a whole, we need to work together to find proactive ways not only to curtail but reduce the number of people that are engaged in drug and alcohol abuse. “We have too many youngsters that are involved in using and abusing of drugs and alcohol.
“We need a facility to not only house them but to treat and train them, however we haven’t had this for many years” said Save.
He acknowledged that there are people in jail who have mental issues due to the lack of proper facilities [to house and treat them]. However, now that there is a facility being built, resources should be made available to bring down professionals who can train, treat and help them recover from drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
Save pointed out there are only three Detectives with the Vice and Narcotics Division of the Department of Public Safety on the whole island that enforce drug laws. He added that funding should be made available to DPS, so those who sell and use drugs can be identified.
The continuation of the ASBAR forum will be in next week’s edition.