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Op-Ed: MOVING FORWARD, PART 5

“Samoa is not a nation; but a family, a brotherhood!”

In his Independence Day speech last week, Samoa’s Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi made the above declaration. And he underscores his reference to his country by alluding to the incident where Samoan families and brothers from opposing sides — New Zealand administered government and Mau Movement — conferred in a conciliatory meeting proved pivotal in Samoa’s march towards independence, gained 50 years ago.

Two months ago, with Samoa’s 50th Independence birthday celebration looming, our two leaders, Governor Togiola Tulafono and Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, met in Washington DC to discuss among other things the need to revisit American Samoa’s political status — the Congressman’s favorite political issue as far back as I can remember. 

The congressman was often labeled as “kamaikiki kaukaulaikiki” (cheeky kid) by local political and traditional leaders whenever he raised the political status several times in the past.  Now it appears he’s the wise one after all.

I find it refreshing though the two leaders finally, at the twilight of their careers, found something they can agree on; but regret the many lost opportunities for the people of the territory due to their petty but costly finger pointing over the years.

The euphoria emanating from Samoa’s 50th golden jubilee has been alluring and intoxicating, to the point where some if not many in the territory cannot help but yearn for recognition, in the Pacific and the world, only a sovereign nation garners. 

Both the Governor and the Congressman resent being relegated as observers to the second row seating when Pacific leaders confer. After all, Samoans are a proud stock and I don’t know of any American Samoan leaders more proud of their race, their people, than the governor and the congressman (think rugby, NFL, and military).

But as the aforementioned euphoria disperses, we should be able to see clearly that in the past two weeks, we added more than one thousand graduates (high school and college) to our ranks of the unemployed, boosting our unemployment rate above the current 30-plus%.

And in two weeks, we shall find out the fate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the Medicaid program in particular, that will impact the territory’s health care significantly — for better or worse.

Unemployment and health care issues, I believe, should take precedence over the territory’s political status; and the signal cannot be any stronger and clearer for the governor, congressman, and Fono, to take the lead now as they should in combating the serious unemployment and health care financing problems in the territory.

To the extent the political status is the cause of our high unemployment rate and obstacle to economic development in general (federal minimum wage law), as the governor and others appear to suggest, then the political status issue should be taken up along with health care financing and the slate of other important issues in the final 2012 legislative session.

Given the importance of the political status issue to the governor and congressman, I wonder why the effort they are proposing now was not initiated immediately after the 2010 election when the proposed constitutional amendments were rejected. I believe any desired constitutional amendments would have been exhaustively addressed by all concerned, not just traditional chiefs, by now and ready to be voted on in the upcoming election. Alas, this is yet another golden opportunity wasted.

The Samoa News photograph of our congressman and governor — long time political adversaries — playing the ukulele and singing in Washington recently — where they supposedly discussed the territory’s political status is a rare but welcomed moment. Could this picture be the harbinger of the territory’s “brotherhood” coming together to move our ship forward and solve the serious problems afflicting our people and community?

In about thirty days, our Fono convenes for the last time for 45 days before the changing of the guards in January 2013. Our political leaders have two choices, go through the usual motions of an election year and of a lame duck administration, or render the last Fono session our pivotal “brotherhood” meeting. I challenge the governor, congressman, and Fono not to squander this fine opportunity to initiate the charting of our future course as a territory.

I am certain I am not alone in celebrating Samoa’s momentous achievement albeit vicariously. Watching the opening ceremony evoked emotions of alofa, admiration, and envy for and of Samoa and her people. I cannot help but “long to be a Falealilian” (Ua ta fia Falealili fua), even if for a few moments.

When can we American Samoans really have a compelling reason to celebrate our self-governance? 

In part 6 of the “Moving forward” series, I will express an opinion on the LBJ Hospital CEO Mike Gerstenberger’s position on health care financing he expressed in a recent local Chamber of Commerce meeting.



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