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Togiola comments on LBJ, StarKist, Fono, media

During his radio program, Gov. Togiola Tulafono, on Saturday morning, gave listeners his views on two issues that have elicited much public comment — the LBJ fee hikes, and the StarKist cold storage facility land lease — while also attacking the Fono for playing politics with people’s lives and the media for biased reporting on government issues. He also announced he is not running for Congress in 2012.

The governor’s radio program, as usual, began at around 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Feb. 04, ended at around 9 a.m., and was delivered in the Samoan language.

Togiola said he will seek legislative approval to return the hospital to the government if the hospital does implement fee hikes today; and, that last Friday he signed the land lease with StarKist, for the good of the economy.

His statements intermingled with pointed remarks about the Fono’s lack of action on the administration’s bills to resolve the government’s financial woes, which include the hospital’ s funding; and the media’s focus on people who oppose him and the government, which are the same people over and over again — “not 100 or 1,000 or 2,000 people”.

LBJ MEDICAL CENTER

Without any solid financial aid package from the government, LBJ Medical Center is moving ahead today with the implementation of the facility fee hikes.

LBJ had informed the governor, with copy of the notice to the Fono, of plans to hike fees effective today but a meeting was to have been held last Friday between LBJ officials and the governor.

However, hospital chief executive officer Mike Gerstenberger told Samoa News that no meeting was held and the fee hikes will go on as scheduled.

“The Governor refused to meet with us. We have received no communication from him and none of the emergency funding we requested is received. We are out of cash in two weeks,” Gerstenberger said late Saturday. “The new fees go into effect at 8 a.m. on Monday [Feb. 6].”

LBJ’s supplemental request calls for just over $15 million, which includes close to $3 million, which is the amount that hospital officials have stated is the shortfall in FY 2011 subsidy the government failed to provide.

Responding to a caller on his weekend radio program as to the status of the fee hike, Togiola said he has informed the hospital board that if they truly believe and know for sure there is no other way to resolve their money issues, then go ahead with implementing what LBJ wants.

At the same time, Togiola said he has also suggested to the board that if they don’t know how to manage and operate the hospital with what they have, then tell him the truth, and he will move to change current law, dissolving the American Samoa Medical Center Authority, a semi autonomous government agency.

Then, towards the end of the radio program, Togiola told listeners that if the hospital does go ahead with the rate hike today, he will send to the Fono today a proposal to return the hospital to the government by amending current statute.

He also claimed that the hospital is not being very truthful with information provided to his office to justify the rate hike and he is very unhappy with the hospital’s action.

The governor went on to say that a recent financial report from the hospital shows $6 million in receivables that should be collected but nothing is being done by the hospital to collect these outstanding debts.

Togiola said the hospital should also go after sponsors to collect outstanding debts of foreigners that have bills with the hospital.

He apologized to the public for this rate hike, saying he takes this issue very seriously; however, he says there is this political game going on with this matter, making it difficult for the government to carry out its plans — referring to the Fono.

The governor accused the Fono of playing a political game that is affecting the lives of the people of American Samoa by not passing solid legislation proposed by the Togiola Administration that provides for a long term financial solution to the hospital’s money woes.

He said he has read in the newspaper that the Fono has approved some bills to provide funding for LBJ although he has yet to see any official communiqué.

However, from looking at these bills, as reported by the newspaper — if the reporting is correct — Togiola says he would not approve any of these appropriation bills, because the bills provide only a short term solution for this year but nothing permanent for next year and every year thereafter.

(The Fono last week approved two measures — one for $253,000 and the other for $1.6 million — with $800,000 to the hospital while the other $800,000 as FEMA matching funds. A Senate bill imposing a new 2% wage tax to fund LBJ operations is pending with the House.)

The governor says the Fono is holding off on the solid measures submitted by the government to help the hospital and then the Fono goes on to blame the government thereafter. He said the Fono should not be playing with the lives of the people of American Samoa.

Togiola said the Fono should have made a decision on the solid proposals from the government long ago; and, again accused the Fono of playing with people’s lives by withholding proposals that will assist the hospital, while approving bills that will not work at all.

Last month the governor proposed a $10 million appropriation to fund the LBJ’s off-island medical referral program. The funding sources are the increases in the import tax on alcohol and beer; a hike in annual business license fees in which 65% of the fees collect goes to the referral program; a $2,000 corporate franchise tax; and the new wage tax of 4% (which is similar to the 2% wage tax that expired Dec. 31, 2011), according to the proposed bill, which has yet to be introduced in either the Senate or the House.

Togiola also informed the Fono that “ASG is investigating ways in which we may assist our local hospital in both the short and long term.”

He then pointed to an ‘aging’ project — the new Fono building — which was allocated $3 million more than two years ago and is still not being used. The governor says that he intends to make a portion or all of the said funding available in order to meet the needs of the local hospital.

Samoa News is unaware of any other administration bills — sent to the Fono — to help the hospital.

STARKIST COLD STORAGE FACILITY LAND LEASE

Togiola announced he has signed the land lease for the StarKist Samoa cold storage facility to be constructed on government land between the Port Administration and the inter island dock.

The governor then lashed out at “the newspaper and the radio” news for always looking for the small number of critics to make negative comments about the government. Togiola didn’t identify the newspaper and radio news by name but it’s presumed the governor is referring to Samoa News (the newspaper) and KHJ News (the radio).

Togiola said he signed on Friday the land lease for this freezer project, which has attracted a lot of discussion as well as criticism. He didn’t elaborate on how many years the lease is, how much StarKist will pay for the lease and how many jobs are expected to be created by this project.

The governor reiterated earlier public comments that his personal feelings are not hurt or affected in any way by the criticism about any development that has not yet commenced, because that is the person’s right in a society of free speech.

He said that all public concerns and complaints raised over this project have all been reviewed and addressed. He said he is raising this specific issue again because the lease has been signed and the government is moving forward with project, which he believes will still result in continued criticism.

Togiola said he is not ignoring public concerns, but as a leader of the territory, he must look at the development that will benefit American Samoa now heading into the future.

The governor told Samoa News during a site tour of the Tri Marine International facility in Atu’u late last month that the StarKist storage facility is a good idea and, depending on how long StarKist will be here, “our lease requires that if they leave at a certain time... the facility will belong to us.”

“...I still believe that it’s just going to be well protected with the things that we are asking them to do and I just listened to some concepts today [during the Tri Marine tour], that were new to me that I think we can continue to discuss to avoid the environmental concerns” that have been raised, said Togiola.

He also emphasized that the StarKist cold storage facility is just that — a cold storage — and told Samoa News at the time that StarKist had requested to include in the lease the use of the cold storage facility to ‘size’ fish, which he rejected, because it is a part of processing, not cold storage.

On his radio program, the governor acknowledged that 100% of the public will not come out in support of any government proposed project, saying that there will always be opposition and criticism as well as supporters, and this is part of life.

The governor believes that when the project is complete and operational, critics will then see its importance and benefits and then those critics will slowly fade away like nothing has happened at all.

More than 600 local residents signed a petition opposing the government and StarKist Samoa’s plans to build the storage facility on the main dock area. Copies of the petition were sent to the governor, StarKist, Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, and the local DOI representative, Lydia Faleafine-Nomura. Sen. Lualemaga Faoa was the only Fono member who spoke up in opposition to the lease.

HITTING AT THE MEDIA

Togiola went on to say there are many people who support government projects and other initiatives but these individuals do not voice their support in the newspaper or on radio news. According to the governor the newspaper and radio does not want to hear from these individuals who voice support, because there is no criticism questioning the government’ s  action.

Newspaper and radio news have a habit of going after critics of the government to get their opinions because it makes better news for them, said the governor, who stated that the media will quickly end an interview if the person being interviewed supports the government, with the newspaper and radio quickly moving on to the next person, looking for someone with negative comments who criticizes the government.

According to the governor, the newspaper and radio quote the “same people making criticism this week, again next week, the following week and the next month”. He said the media will again seek out these same individuals in June and again in December because they’re the only individuals who are in opposition--and then the media make it out to be much opposition.

He told radio listeners that it’s only a handful of people who are making the same opposing comments against the governor and the government, not 100 or 1,000 or 2,000 people.

And when a new governor comes into office, new critics will surface to criticize the new governor, said Togiola. He also said that the newspaper and radio will then find the new critics to report on, making it seem that there is much opposition to the new administration.

He reiterated that the newspaper and radio does want to talk to people who are supportive of the governor and government because positive comments are not fun for the media.

2012 RACE FOR U.S. CONGRESS

The governor confirmed that he has no plans to seek American Samoa’s non-voting seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and will wait until next year to see what he will do next about seeking a political post. It comes amid much speculation in the territory as to whether or not the governor will throw his hat into the Congressional race and attempt to unseat incumbent Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who is serving his 12th consecutive two-year term in office.

Togiola is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive four-year term as governor of the territory. His term as governor officially ends before

12noon Jan. 3, 2013, which is when the new governor takes the oath of office.

Speaking on his radio program, Togiola said he has been approached or contacted about American Samoa’s seat to the U.S. House. He said he has no plans to seek the delegate seat because he asked voters in 2008 for another term in office and he was given the confidence to serve in office for four more years.

Togiola said he would not leave the chief executive post that he had sworn to serve for the entire four years and therefore he cannot abandon his commitment to the people of American Samoa to serve out his full term as governor. He also said that he does not want to use his current post in order to seek another political seat when the work of the governor has yet to be completed.

He asked the public to set aside anything about him seeking the delegate seat, and he will not run in 2012 for any political office, but after January next year, he will then look at options available and whether or not to seek another political office.

Togiola was first sworn in as governor in April of 2003 to fill the seat left vacant following the sudden death of the late Gov. Tauese P.F. Sunia, who passed away on board a Polynesian Airlines flight in March 2003 from Apia to Honolulu. Togiola was serving as Tauese’s lieutenant governor.

A former senator and an attorney by profession, Togiola was first elected to the governor’s post following the 2004 general election and was then re-elected in the 2008 elections.

The governor also said on his radio program that this is the season of election, politics and lies and he wished he could respond directly to statements by candidates made in this election year criticizing the government, but opted to generalize his comments.

He said when a candidate has nothing else to say to the public, that candidate then claims that the government is in a bad situation and it’s the reason that candidate is running for office.

Any time a candidate makes such a claim, that means that candidate is making priority qualifications to run for such office and programs to be implemented to further improve government service if elected, the governor said.

Togiola urged voters to listen very carefully to statements by candidates, saying he wished he had another chance to run for office, he would definitely reply to claims that the government is in bad shape.

(On the same radio program, the governor also responded to accusations by Sen. Lualemaga during Friday’s Senate session over an incident that occurred last month, when the governor walked off the cruise ship Regatta, in port for its maiden voyage. See separate story in today’s paper.)



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