FONO CONFIRMS DR. RUTH MATAGI TOFIGA
The Lolo Administration has a newly confirmed director for the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources after the Fono on Friday gave their full endorsement of the nominee, Dr. Ruth S. Matagi-Tofiga, a veteran educator. The Senate’s vote was 13-2 and the House, 16-1. Hearings were held on the same day.
Matagi-Tofiga, who received her doctrine in education specializing in leadership with educational administration from Capella University, is the second female cabinet nominee to be fully confirmed by the Fono. The first was Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau, as Education Department director.
One of the questions raised in both the Senate and House hearings concerned Matagi-Tofiga’s qualifications to head DMWR, when she is an educator. In his nomination letter to the Fono, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said Matagi-Tofiga “has taught biology classes at the high school, college and university level.”
Held before the House Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen, he started off the hearing by announcing that each faipule who is a committee member will be given the chance to ask one question and/or offer words of encouragement and advice to the witness. He added that those who are not members of the committee will also be given a chance to address the witness, but only if time permits.
Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. echoed the same thing. Fetu, who is not a member of the House Government Operations Committee but up to that time, was very vocal about ending confirmation hearings before any faipule other than the 13 who have leadership roles and membership in the standing committees had a chance to ask any questions. Samoa News reported on this issue in Friday’s issue.
However, on Friday, Fetu said he was not going to address the witness but instead, give the chance to “my brothers” seated to his left to ask any questions they might have.
The majority of the lawmakers, who sit to Fetu's left included the seven who did not vote for House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale and have no roles in any of the House standing committees.
Rep. Puletu D. Koko led the question about Tofiga’s background, saying many people are questioning her qualifications, wondering about the connection between being an educator for many years and then jumping ship to oversee the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources.
Tofiga has been with the Department of Education for many years, serving as principal of Tafuna High School and teaching biology at the high school, college, and university level.
The nominee explained that she holds a bachelors degree in biology, and added that over 90% of DMWR's budget is from federal grants and this an area that she is familiar with, as this is the same work she did for many years at the Department of Education. "I believe that if I can be useful in any way, then I need to share it," she told lawmakers.
Puletu said that while he has seen a copy of Tofiga's resume, he needed her to explain, in the presence of the media, her qualifications for taking on this post, so all the questions pertaining to this subject can be laid to rest.
Rep. Vaamua Henry Sesepasara, a former DMWR director didn't hold back when he said there have been a lot of problems with the department for the past 16 years.
He told Tofiga the development side of DEMWR is lacking.
"In the past 16 years, there has been no progress in this area and this basically means there is no help for the local fishermen," he said. "We really need to look at what fishermen both here and in Manu'a need."
He said the US Coast Guard has a lot of regulations that make it hard for fishing boats to come in and out and it becomes harder when DMWR offers no help in this area. He urged Tofiga to look into these issues and said, "there are ways to help resolve these problems."
Vaamua then invited Tofiga to a meeting to include himself and some local fishermen at 11:30 that morning, saying it would be great to have Tofiga present at the meeting to meet and greet the fishermen, and listen to what they have to say.
Tofiga thanked all the lawmakers for their words of advice and well wishes, saying she will take them with her in her new role, and use them as guidance in her new position.
Matagi-Tofiga made note of her qualifications at the outset of her opening statement. She said her appointment by the governor was based on her many years as an educator working with students especially in the areas of biology, a subject she taught at the high school level as well as university off island.
She also said she has knowledge and understanding of issues pertaining to this department because our ancestors depended on the sea and land for survival.
After her opening comments, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega spoke, saying that the nominee has provided an answer to his question, which dealt with her experience to take over the leadership post at DMWR.
He said the DMWR directorship post is a very difficult one because it deals with the protection of the territory’s marine resources and limited land. He also said that he is very concerned with the proposed plan by the federal government to expand the national marine sanctuary because it limits the “use of our resources.”
He called on the nominee to always keep this issue in mind during her tenure if she is fully confirmed by the Fono.
Matagi-Tofiga reminded senators later in the hearing that the national marine sanctuary comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce, not DMWR.
Sen. Faumuina Tagisiaali’i had a different concern (which is also a concern that has been raised to Samoa News by several residents over the years). Faumuina said stringent federal laws applied to the territory have affected local residents.
For example, the Samoan lupe (dove) has been a delicacy for Samoans for many years and federal regulations prohibit the shooting of the “lupe”, he said, adding that there should be provisions to allow the “lupe” to be hunted at certain times of the year. He said many Samoan senior citizens enjoy this delicacy but have no chance to do so due to these stringent federal regulations.
Matagi-Tofiga acknowledged that there are federal laws and mandates that apply to American Samoa and she believes that these mandates need to be thoroughly reviewed so they are also in line with local laws.
She also believes the federal laws pertaining to these specific issues should be presented for full review of the Fono for further understanding, adding that the federal government should also consider “our limited resources.”
She did remind senators that this department is funded by federal grants, which come with strict funding provisions that must be followed. She further noted that she believes that more local residents should be well educated to work in this department.
She said that it’s her future vision to work closely with the Department of Education and the local government to develop more curriculum areas in science and biology that would graduate local students to work in DMWR.
See future editions for her responses to questions about updated plans for Manu’a, as well as other issues Matagi-Tofiga spoke of during her confirmation hearing.
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