Commentary: Take 2 — Another look at the news
It rained news last week, lots of news, and when there is news, commentary follows.
Governor-elect Lolo is smart and correct to ask the federal government to help with an audit, as he prepares to take over.
If nothing else, such a request (and the actual audits) will tend to naturally suppress shenanigans that might otherwise take place.
Travel is not in and of itself a violation of any rule, and there will probably be plenty of travel in the next month. Hawaiian Air, which added two flights for the holidays, might need to add a few more for the last gasp of an outgoing administration.
The Governor (and five others) are returning from Taiwan (paid for by the Taiwanese), a trip that was close on the heels of his journey to Indonesia (also paid for by a foreign government, I believe). The Lt. Governor is back in Honolulu receiving medical care. The Manu’a boat malaga (six strong) is headed to the Big Easy (i.e., New Orleans).
Sorting out the worthwhile trips from the less-than-crucial trips would require more “transparency” than we usually get.
The governor-elect is right to ask Governor Togiola to hold off on further efforts towards purchasing a boat for Manu’a. Lolo’s Manu’a support is very strong and the Togiola’s record on maritime procurement is very weak (e.g., Marisco fiasco, Fosia fiasco).
Now is a good time for Togiola to bow out gracefully, and turn the matter over to the incoming crew. It is wonderful that federal funds ($1 million) were secured for a new/used Manu’a vessel, but at this late date, the file should be turned over to the new administration without any further expenditure of funds and without any commitment that would tie the new administration’s hands.
SPEAKING OF TAIWAN
Who doesn’t love a gift? But you’ve got wonder why Taiwan and Indonesia are so interested in helping American Samoa. Indonesia wants to pay for a basketball court (of all things)! Indonesia also wants to host students, send experts, and otherwise lend a helping hand to American Samoa.
Taiwan wants to provide scholarships for our students.
I hope somebody smarter than me is thinking about what underlies this unsought generosity on the part of countries that we don’t normally think of as being part of our circle of mutual-interest community.
The Transition Team co-chairs have been announced, and the speculation about who will be handed the reins of power has begun.
The list is fascinating to government —and political-watchers — but instead of dissecting it in a rude and ignorant manner, I would just observe that the list should not be read as a preview of cabinet appointments. There will be limited correlation between the list and the nominations sent by Governor Lolo to the Fono for confirmation.
One appointment that raised eyebrows (and the public ire of at least one Lolo supporter) was Utu Abe Malae to look into ASPA’s status. Following the announcement, Utu told me he is not interested in returning to ASPA as Executive Director. He did not rule out taking a director’s job in American Samoa, but he made it clear that was only one of several options he was mulling during this break in his illustrious government career.
By now, everyone has noticed that all the candidates who endorsed Lolo have a prominent role in the Transition Team, and that is entirely appropriate. Those six men and women love American Samoa so much, and have so much to offer the territory, that they stood before the voters for many months and asked for their support.
It is only fitting that they should be asked to continue in their service to the people by helping with the transition. I only wish Save and Sandra were on the list.
Many of the closest Lolo-Lemanu lieutenants are not serving as Transition Team co-chairs. In at least a few cases, that is probably because they are getting ready to run the government after the Transition Teams finish their work.
Either during this transition period or soon thereafter, the incoming administration is going to absorb body blows, as the extent of the challenges facing the territory becomes clearer.
It is safe to say that when Lolo and Lemanu assume office on January 3rd, they will probably not find a sound and healthy government awaiting them. The first quarter of fiscal year 2013 will be over, but probably well over a quarter of the FY2013 funds will have been spent or committed.
And there will be revelations. We will learn about bank accounts that don’t have the money in them that we thought we did. About deals that were made that we didn’t know had been made. That sort of thing.
And we will hear an accounting of things we have already been told, but tried to forget: about the overruns in the Marisco project and the court order against ASG, about the overruns in the $20 million Retirement Fund expenditures, about the court-ordered debt we owe to pay off the Laufou Shopping Center lawsuit, about the money we owe to settle a Department of Labor overtime investigation, about the money ASG owes to ASPA, etc.
It won’t be a pretty picture.
And the announced departure of Bank of Hawaii will make the situation seem grimmer, or maybe it will merely reinforce how grim it really is.
The Bank has been interested in leaving American Samoa for several years, and their interest was probably heightened when ASG took them to court over and over in the past few months, in an effort to circumvent federal court orders.
When the population of our remote island territory dropped between the years 2000 and 2010, and when there are no very bright prospects on the horizon (besides the new Tri-Marine plant), it is to be expected that major players will be evaluating whether they want to continue devoting resources to American Samoa.
The answer for BOH was, “no.”
THE RIGHT TONE
I’m sure not everyone agrees, but Governor-elect Lolo has set the right tone and said the right things so far in a variety of contexts.
If you want to be part of the change a’ comin’, you better get busy fine-tuning your résumé. Don’t forget: the deadline is December 15 and if you miss the deadline, you won’t be serving in the Lolo/Lemanu cabinet.
ALL FOR SECOND CHANCES, BUT…
Count me among those vehemently opposed to the hiring of the rapist to serve as a Kanana Fou janitor. Thanks, once again, to the indomitable Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, for expressing her umbrage.
There are many good men and women looking for work in American Samoa who are more deserving of this job opportunity, and there is every reason for the church to be extra cautious about exposing Kanana Fou visitors to a man with a troubled past.
Is there another side to this? Compassion, second chances — of course. But the circumstances don’t warrant the action taken (and defended) by the church.
ASCC ENGAGES IN CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENTS
I’m a fan of ASCC for a number of reasons, and one of them is that the college moves forward. It tackles its problems and resolves them. Other problems arise and they get tackled too.
The college has a long way to go to be top notch, but it keeps taking steps in that direction, and doesn’t seem to slide backwards along the way.
Congratulations to ASCC for implementing the online registration program (earlier this year) and then fixing the problems that arose when the program was first tried out (and proved to be as frustrating as the previous system).
ASPA HITS A HOME RUN
Congratulations to ASPA, which has tapped something incredibly powerful with its program to trade recyclable junk (or just junk) for credits against ASPA bills.
It is truly amazing and wonderful to see people carting the junk that afflicts and plagues our island to the Tafuna yard of ASPA.
This program seems to be doing more to clean up the island than 101 previous programs. I hope somebody is studying this PHENOMENON closely and learning some replicable take-away lessons from it.
For example, how can this same phenomena be transferred to addressing the stray dog problem (okay, I shouldn’t expect miracles. If we really wanted to get rid of stray dogs, Tim Jones would have gotten more than 189 votes).
A LESSON LEARNED OVER AND OVER AGAIN
Every four years, candidates learn again that they were over-optimistic in counting the number of people who will vote for them.
I think every candidate and high-level campaign manager was surprised that they didn’t receive more votes. Some were shocked and others were merely surprised. But they were all reminded of how easy it is to be misled by people’s assurances that they will vote for whichever candidate or candidate representative is standing in front of the wily Samoan voter.
I have never run for office, but I’ve spoken to many candidates and many campaign insiders, and they routinely report two things: 1) people will look you in the eye and tell you that they will vote for you, but they don’t, and 2) there are always more people who fit the #1 description than you think.
In other words, the candidates know that people “lie”, but they underestimate the number of lies told. This is true across the board. The lowliest candidate feels it, and the most successful candidate feels it.
Even the veteran candidate suffers from this phenomenon. The candidates are like Charlie Brown, thinking that this time Lucy is going to let him kick the football without pulling it back at the last minute. Sorry Charlie.
NCDs AND CCSs
I have saved the most important items for last.
Hats off to the Department of Health and the Department of Education.
DOH organized a Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Summit this week, and DOE organized a Common Core Standards Awareness Conference.
The seamstresses on the island were busy making beautiful uniforms and the caterers were busy serving delicious food.
The participants were busy tackling the two biggest problems facing American Samoa (after, of course, the potholes are fixed and the roads improved): health and education.
Please don’t be bored. Don’t yawn and start reading the cartoons. This is important.
The NCD message was simple: we have a personal health crisis and it is killing us at a young age, and it will destroy our community’s ability to develop as it sucks all the financial resources from the increasingly unproductive community.
I can’t believe I just wrote such a boring summary. But there it is: we have too many people suffering from too many NCDs because they smoke, they drink, they don’t eat well, and they don’t get physical exercise.
Tackling this problem will take a personal and community effort. One speaker said if the Department of Health/Public Health and hospital do their job 100% as well as possible, it will resolve only 30% of the problem. To resolve the remainder of the problem will require all other parts of our society: government, schools, family, village, church, culture, business, non-profits, etc.
The good news is the work has begun in earnest. The bad news is that 33% of the deaths in American Samoa are of people 45-64 years of age, while in the USA, only 16% of deaths are in that age range. The bad news is that it will take many years to “fix” this problem in our society, but the good news is that changes you make today will make a noticeable improvement in your life within just a few weeks.
As for the Common Core Standards: It’s a long story, but here is the short version: American Samoa is adopting a new set of standards (goals) for what our kids should learn and when they should learn it. This new set of standards, the Common Core Standards, are very quickly becoming the standards all across the United States.
DOE is determined to challenge itself to educate our kids as well as kids in the rest of the USA, and they are also taking concrete steps to equip our teachers and schools with the knowledge, tools and resources they need to “take it up a notch”. Or two, or three, or four.
Because taking it up one notch will not be enough, American Samoa. We are going to have to take it up several notches if our kids are going to be able to serve as the foundation for a society that is prosperous, and prosperous enough to retain its culture as global waves of economic pressures wash over these Samoan islands.
The work being done on NCDs and CCSs is crucial to the near-term, mid-term and long-term prosperity of American Samoa, and that prosperity is the only way American Samoa is going to be able to retain a strong and healthy cultural identity.
NCDs and CCSs may be boring, but it is super-exciting for people who are concerned about the territory’s future. That’s most of us, right???
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