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NVTHS forum continues look at political candidates

reporters@samoanews.com

The Nu’uuli Vocational Technical High School, the Senior Class and the National Technical Honor Society hosted a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum on Tuesday at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium, where gubernatorial and congressional candidates, in separate sessions, responded to questions from students, which included those from Samoana High School and Fa’asao- Marist High School.

The forum is the second held by high schools, with the format being a Q&A session, moderated by a student. The questions were asked by students only and each team or candidate was given an opportunity to answer. There seems to be no time limit on the answer given by each responder.

The first forum was held at Fagaitua High School and was only for gubernatorial candidates. The one held on Monday, included a 2nd session with congressional candidates, which led to the forum being held for close to 5 hours.

Samoa News understands that Tafuna and Leone High Schools may hold similar forums in September.

The gubernatorial candidates attending were Afoa Su’esu’e Lutu and Le’i Sonny Thompson, Save Tuitele and Afioga Tofoitaufa Sandra King-Young, Lolo Moliga and Lemanu Peleti Mauga, and, Salu Hunkin-Finau and Iuniasolua Savusa.

Noted is that both forums, Fagaitua and Nu’uuli VocTech, did not include the team of Faoa Aitofele Sunia and Taufete’e John Taufete’e.

An official from the NVTHS told Samoa News a letter was received informing the school that the team was not able to attend this forum, because Faoa is off island; while for Fagaitua’s forum, Samoa News noted that Faoa attended the opening ceremony of an official government event due to Gov. Togiola Tulafono being off-island at the time.

The moderator for the event was Peninatautele Suka, the student body president; the opening prayer was conducted by Ietitaia Falelua senior class president; welcoming remarks were made by Aloese Su’a, the school’s student body vice president; and NHS Treasurer Shon Henry Satele introduced the gubernatorial candidates.

 

GUBERNATORIAL QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION

There were no surprise questions by students — they focused on what the community has been asking out loud for the last several years. An interesting exchange did occur between Afoa and Lolo during the rebuttal period of the session concerning the Low Income Housing program.

Among questions asked by the students were what the candidates can do: to boost the economy, to create more job opportunities; to eliminate the practice of “who you know, not what you know” in government; to solve the LBJ crisis; to get government to pay its ASPA bills.

The first question was asked by a NVTHS student:

“If you don’t have the trust of the government, what will you do within your first year that will deserve our trust in your leadership?”

AFOA & LE’I

Afoa said this question is about government accountability. He said they have put up their own personal motto and that is their greatest contribution to the people — service.”

“Honest, trustworthy, reliable and consistence service, while we lead we will ensure transparency and honesty in government.”

Afoa said when he was the Attorney General in 1980 under Lutali’s administration and they abided by that, which “we will abide if I’m governor — that is going to be in my administration.

“We will make sure that the directors and those that we choose will be best of the best no matter where you come from, no matter who you voted for, the opportunity for you is open, but you have to come and we will review your resume.

“…if you want to be a director you will be given the opportunity to present to us what your plan is, you cannot come to us to be a leader of a department and you don’t have a plan to do your work, we will require that you become the person that knows the job and have the plans to implement that job.”

Afoa said that way they can ensure they place people that are trustworthy — that the government and the people depend on.

He assured students that if anyone in his administration breaks the law that that person will answer to the law, and at the same time they will provide the people that work for them support and will back them if they are doing the right thing.

“In conclusion just do the right thing and then we will have trustworthy people in the government,” said Afoa.

SAVE & SANDRA

Save said, he doesn’t have to explain the state the government is in currently.

“We can’t just change the roofs of our house, we can’t just change the top leaders of the government, the poles, which support the roof have been eaten by termites and we need to get new leaders who are efficient, leaders we can trust and leaders that have the trust of the people, those are the people who need to hold off the roof.”

Save explained that if the foundation is not changed, the government will go back to be the same as it was before.

“However my proposal is that we change the administration, those who have retired and come back to work as contractors, for the government and are not doing the job they are suppose to be doing, they will have to terminated or they have to find a job somewhere else”.

He said there are too many Samoans that have come back from college, and they have to go back to the states, because they are not given the opportunity to work and serve the people of American Samoa.

“That’s what we need to do, we need to put the right people at the right position, people we can trust, people who have the training and the experience” said Save.

 

LOLO & LEMANU

Lolo said this question goes to the heart of their campaign, if elected, they will be sure to restore the integrity of the government and secondly restore the trust of public and public confidence.

“Today the keyword to what we are trying to do is qualification — that’s what it’s all about — who will be the best person to lead government, after serving 40+ years with this government, I’ve seen what going on in government.”

Lolo told the students that he and his running mate Lemanu have the qualifications and can gain the trust and the confidence of the public and will work on getting the government back on track. .

“This government needs leaders who have experience in life, real life experience is what you need, we all have good plans of how to run this government, however it takes a good leader to put that through and deliver what people need today.

“Education is always our number one priority — why? Because… better education will greatly benefit and bring our government to the next level, better education will bring harmony in our society, better education will provide happiness and fulfilment in every young person.”

Lolo said if elected they will explore every option pertaining to education and they will make sure that they will do their best in improving the intellectual capacity of the young people, and the government.

 

SALU & IUNI

Salu responded by giving an example of trust with money. She said if you trust someone with money those people are good, however if you don’t know where the money is then questions and suspicions start to arise.

“Judiciary responsibility or responsibility in taking care of the people’s money, is where you know whether these leaders can be trusted or not. I’m going to bring it down to DOE — it has to do with DOE. The DOE receives about 70 million a year and my point is pertaining to the trust in the usage of this money.

“We need to update the books, update the conditions of your classrooms, we need to get more school buses, we need to get a Gym for NVTHS… your teachers make little money, and may have to use their own money to get materials to use in the classrooms, I don’t think that’s right, teachers need to be paid well for the work their doing.

“Equipment is not enough at NVTHS, how can you learn carpentry without hammers and nails, welding and no welding machine for the students.

“Were talking about where the money should go to help you out in the classrooms, and yet it should be the most conducive place for you to learn.’

Salu said there should be online registration for students and also look into the assessment for the school monetary report in that area, because school systems were made to help the students, not the students going to school to try and fit what DOE provides.

REBUTTAL

Gubernatorial candidates were given the chance for rebuttal in regards to responses; however, Afoa asked Lolo on the status of the 1602 program, which was administrated by the Development Bank of American Samoa (DBAS), of which Lolo is the president.

Afoa said, “I want to know what happened to the 1602 project that deals with money, there have been a lot of complaints to his office regarding this issue.”

Lolo responded, “You’re looking at a candidate who was able to bring down over $30 million into our government and Afoa is one of the beneficiaries of this program; and they can say all kinds of things, because if there is any program that I’m proud to be a part of, it is the 1602 and I was able to bring down 30+million dollars.

“As leaders you have to ask yourselves what have you done for American Samoa? I can speak out fairly that I was able to bring down over 30 million into our economy and helped out our people and helped the government. ‘Now ask yourself what have you done?’, said Lolo.

BACKGROUND

The 1602 program Afoa and Lolo are referencing is the Section 1602 Low Income House Program, which was the subject of Fono hearings in early March of this year, in response to public complaints of favoritism and conflicts of interest. 

The program has made available $30.7 million for construction of rental units for low income families. Recipients must put up 15% of the costs while 85% is a grant. DBAS has approved funding for the construction of 450 rental homes for 132 recipients under the program.

DBAS was the vehicle (administrator) through which the banking and inspections were done on behalf of the Federal Government, with final scoring of applications, while involving the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO), were made by DBAS.

It was in May 2011 that DBAS and ASESRO received notice that the US Treasury would no longer release any funds for the 1602 program unless reviewed and approved by the ARRA single point of contact, who is the ASESRO Executive Director Pat Galeai.

Prior to this US Treasury directive, DBAS had been drawing down and disbursing the funds for the low income housing program without going through ASESRO, like other ARRA grantees.

According to Utu Abe Malae, former DBAS president, right before Lolo, in an email in Feb. 2012 to Samoa News queries about the 1602 program, all the legwork for the program was started in 2008 just before he left, and only took off when the ARRA funding became available during Lolo’s time.

CONGRESSIONAL Q & A'

Following the nearly three hour session given to the gubernatorial candidates, the three candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives were given an opportunity to answer student questions.

Vying for the job of representing American Samoa’s interests in Washington D.C., where the territorial delegate holds a non-voting seat in the House as a whole, but can cast a vote in committee, were incumbent Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, and two female contenders, Aumua Amata, and Rosie Fuala’au Tago Lancaster.

Issues surrounding Manu’a transportation, misuse of federal funds, the citizenship status bill, educational opportunities and “gay marriage” were brought before the candidates, who gave thoughtful and deliberate answers, sometimes  agreeing with one another in principle, while offering different solutions to the territory’s problems and challenges.

As it often does, the plight of the people of the Manu’a islands came up, and Rosie stated simply that our Congressional representative must work closely with the people of Manu’a on transportation issues, particularly with their leaders.

Faleomavaega reminded the students that he had secured funding for the MV Sili, but he still heard complaints because the vessel could not be used until the harbor was dredged, which was really a local issue. Once the harbor was able to handle the MV Sili, it was put to use for the people, he said, and added that the harbor must be maintained and dredged every few years so to ease transportation problems for the Manu’a group.

Aumua Amata referred to the many options available to ease the burden on the people of Manu’a, particularly in regard to transportation and health care. She referred to the Flying Doctors of America, a non-profit group she was instrumental in bringing to the territory, who flew to the Manu’a Islands while they were here. They were able to bring with them medical supplies and anesthetics which were in short supply.  She mentioned the portable defibrillators which can be in use anywhere, because they save lives. “It shouldn’t be that hard to save lives” she stated.

She agreed with Faleomavaega that it may be useful to redo the budget so that Manu’a would have separate money set aside for Manu’a’s needs.  Both Aumua and Faleomavaega said they felt that Manu’a should hold a higher priority in the budget process.

On the question of gay marriage, which has been highlighted recently in the national press, the students asked the candidates, “Do you agree or disagree with it, and why or why not?”

Faleomavaega noted that “this is a moral issue as well as a legal issue” and under the U.S. Constitution, you have rights as a citizen who pays taxes. He asked, “If gay people, who are citizens, pay taxes, why should they be denied the right of a legal union?”

He admitted that on a personal level, he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and caused some laughter when he said that—after all— our first parents “were Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

Aumua stated simply that “Marriage is a union between a man and a woman” and she noted that her views are “perhaps more conservative” than her opponents, but she firmly opposes legalizing a union between two people of the same gender.

Rosie echoed Aumua, stating, “I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.” She added that “how you live your life is your choice, but the family institution, from a Christian perspective, supports marriage between a man and a woman.

In rebuttal, Faleomavaega stated, “You cannot legislate morality” and reminded the students that more than 50% of the people in America support gay marriage. Rosie admitted that “we have a large gay population here” drawing a little laughter from the audience, but she stated again, “I’m a firm believer in a man and woman raising a family together.”

On the subject of college opportunities and affordability, Faleomavaega said, “I cannot over-emphasize the importance of a college education” and likened a Bachelor’s degree to holding a high school diploma these days.

He told the students that United States students rank 25th in the world, and “I’m sad to say that if you are taking remedial courses after high school, something is seriously wrong here.”

“I’ve said it many times—education is the salvation of our people” he stated, adding that “I want you to be prepared for the future.”

He took the opportunity to mention again the “unique relationship we have with the United States” and added that he was fearful that the future destiny of our territory may be decided by outside forces”.

He referred back to education, saying, “We need to plan seriously ... I want you to think better, do better than you are doing today, I want you to be prepared for the future, and seriously address our political future.

Aumua said she was grateful for the opportunity to talk about college, because she wants to make it more affordable. “How do we make college more affordable for you?  I believe the number one setback to students from AS not being able to earn a college degree is cost. As of Friday, ASCC became a four-year college with the graduation of two BA degree recipients and we salute them: Mr. Selutoga Fuiava of Manu'a and Mrs. Tasia Talamoni of Aua.

She noted however, that “many of our students go off island to earn a degree.  This classifies those students as out-of-state students, thus driving up the cost by tens of thousands of dollars a year.  My plan is this: Washington DC students are also considered out-of-state and DC also has a non voting delegate to Congress.  However, D.C. colleges have an agreement with colleges all over the country to make their students in-state. This is a federal program that we should be included in.  We should partner with other States to provide in-state tuition for our students”

“Our Delegate has just said that all students must go to college.  Although I agree with him, it is a myth to think that everyone's going to college because some of you may not choose to.  We should stress technical jobs, culinary, waiter or waitress, flight attendants...maybe this could be incorporated into the high school curriculum”

Aumua said her plan would be to partner with trade schools to train a more efficient work force. “Schools all over the US are training workers in the trade industries.“

We must have a governor and delegate who are business friendly and completely supportive of the private sector because that's where the jobs are.  One example is a trade school in Baltimore that educates shipbuilders.  This is perfect for our students because we are surrounded by water and ships come here everyday. “The focus should be on helping you find a job”, she told the students.

Rosie noted that she runs an in-house program at ASCC to help students not eligible for the Pell Grants, and it’s based on a first come/ first serve basis. Most students who apply, receive the assistance, she said, and they are able to earn their tuition and their way through school with this assistance.

She said that our local DOE needs to find more ways to help students find tuition money for college. In closing, she turned to the students and wished them well, and congratulated them and their parents for their upcoming graduation, and wished them the best in their future endeavors.

Samoa News staff writer Teri Hunkin contributed to this story.



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