Commentary: Buckle up. Change might be a wild ride.
It is a tradition for outgoing governors to flex their muscle on their way out the door. I think we will learn in the days and weeks ahead that former Governor Togiola Tulafono engaged in that tradition.
Two things we already know about: 1) he wrote a $100,000 check to the Samoa Government to assist with the recovery from Cyclone Evan; and 2) he agreed to swap the Samoa Government an acre of land in the Tafuna area for an acre of land in the greater Apia township area.
In doing the first act, he invoked the name of Governor Lolo as supporting his action. But the Lolo Administration has since clarified that they did not agree to that donation. Too bad, so sad.
As a source of the funds, the former governor used unspent funds from the $20 million that ASG borrowed from the ASG Retirement Fund a few years ago.
I, for one, am amazed there is any money left from that loan. We know that the former governor used those monies to pay for things that were never reviewed or approved by the Fono. I assumed that meant the piggy bank was depleted (even though the Fono never got some of the money designated for needed new construction).
Yet, it turns out there was still money left unspent in the $20 million loan; Togiola reduced the balance by $100,000 on his last day in office.
Without knowing more about the government’s financial condition, it is hard to know exactly how desperately the American Samoa Government needed $100,000 of those funds for our own purposes. And without knowing more about how other people besides Togiola felt, it is hard to know whether the community feels good about the decision to part with $100,000 to aid Samoan cyclone relief. That is a matter that different people can have different opinions on.
Togiola also signed some last minute papers to swap an acre of land with the Samoans. The Samoans have an office here in Fagatogo that takes up about 300 square feet in an office building. That office is used for administering the [horrible] practice of requiring US Nationals to pay a fee to visit Samoa.
Now the Samoans will have 43,000 square feet of land for their local needs. And a local landlord will lose a tenant.
In return, we will get 43,000 square feet of land in Samoa. Does anyone think we need 43,000 square feet of land in Samoa? Or that if we needed it, we couldn’t lease it or rent it from someone?
If Samoans want space here for an office, they can rent it like every other tenant. If we want land in Apia, why don’t we just rent it or lease it like everyone else?
The logic of the land swap escapes me, except that it serves as a tangible result of the precious inter-Samoa talks that our respective leaders have lavished so much time, resources and attention on.
But if it really made sense, Togiola should have left it to Lolo to follow up on.
Hopefully we won’t find too many other instances of the former governor unnecessarily and unwisely tying the hands of the present governor.
The Lolo administration will find itself with limited options for making a big impact if the big impact requires spending a great deal of money.
But there is one project that is fully funded, costs a lot of money and can result in a huge impact for American Samoa: ASTCA’s $90 million BLAST project.
The federally-funded BLAST project will provide a smooth superhighway to every building in American Samoa. This highway will not have any potholes. This highway will not transport vehicles. It will be used to transport data.
Data like phone calls, Internet traffic and television signals.
When the BLAST project is finished in a year or two, the potential for fantastic new capabilities will be in place. We will have a superhighway BLAST fiber optic network to connect everyone in American Samoa to each other and to the rest of the world via the ASH superhighway fiber optic cable that connects American Samoa to the rest of the world.
This capability will create opportunities for distance learning, telemedicine, eCommerce, business efficiency, and 101 other 21st century amenities and necessities.
Because ASTCA has been preoccupied with carrying out the technical side of the BLAST project, it has barely scratched the surface in preparing the territory for how the new BLAST network can improve our lives.
It behooves the Lolo administration to devote some of its biggest, best and boldest thinkers to the challenge of how we can take advantage of BLAST and ASH to improve our economy, strengthen our culture, educate our youth, and promote our health (among other things).
We have a new and incredibly different ASPA board coming our way (how about that!), and it seems likely that we will soon have a new and incredibly different ASTCA board coming our way.
The time is nigh and the situation is ripe for the Lolo administration to make a big difference in how bright our future will be. Let’s BLAST off!
AIRPORT POLICE OFFICERS NEED SAFETY VESTS
Can we please improve the safety of the traffic police stationed in front of the airport by robing them in fluorescent green vests with reflective stripes? White gloves would be a valuable additional touch.