House confirms Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona as DHSS director
Department of Human and Social Services director nominee Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona was the first cabinet nominee to sweep the votes in the House of Representatives (18-0) yesterday morning when the long time cannery official appeared before the House Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Fu'e Allen.
(Taeaoafua will appear for confirmation before the Senate Human Resources/Human and Social Services Committee chaired by Senator Magalei Logovi'i on Thursday morning).
The gallery was packed with supporters including DHSS employees, family, friends, Star Kist general manager Brett Butler and prominent local businessman Avamua Dave Haleck.
The hearing lasted less than an hour, with lawmakers praising Taeaoafua's qualifications and thanking him for his decision to return to serve in the government, after nearly 20 years of service in the private sector, working at Star Kist Samoa. (Prior to his stint at the cannery, Taeaoafua served as Department of Commerce director, was also a special assistant to the Director of Education, and principal of Samoana High School).
Freshman Rep. Talaimatai Elisaia Su'a asked Taeaoafua if he has enough strength to carry out his duties. Taeaoafua replied that he is ready, and he has the strength to do the job. He said he has been gone from the American Samoa Government for way too long and now it is time for him to return and serve the people of the territory. He said whatever strength and knowledge he may have, he is willing to contribute all of it, so he can be useful to the territory and its people.
"O ai ea a'u?" (Who am I?) he asked. "I am just someone who wants to serve, to share whatever I can, wherever I can be of use."
Rep. Puletuimalo Koko referred to Taeaoafua's lucrative salary and benefits package at Star Kist and said it must be hard for such a high official from the cannery to jump ship to the government, knowing that the new job will not come with similar paychecks and benefits.
Taeaoafua responded that he truly believes his nomination by the governor to head DHSS is not an appointment but instead, his "calling." He said while money is important, his willingness to serve in the government outweighs it. "Money is not important to me right now," he said. "Whatever God gives me, I will be happy with it."
Rep. Fagasoaia Lealaitafea asked Taeaoafua if he loved his wife, to which Taeaoafua said, "Yes, I truly love my wife, the one I married, until the end of time." Throughout the hearing, several lawmakers mentioned that about 90% of Taeaoafua's new staff at DHSS are female, to which Taeaoafua agreed but said, "these women are all professional women, most of them are deputy directors and program officials and managers, people I will depend on to help me carry out the job."
Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai asked Taeaoafua to look into reports requested by the Senate and the House. The Ituau faipule said they have yet to receive fourth quarter performance reports and added, "These reports are very important, as they help us gage the performance of each department and where each one is headed." He reminded Taeaoafua that the majority, if not all of his department's funding is from the federal government, and his concern is the past issue regarding the high risk status for DHSS.
Chairman Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen was the last to speak, telling Taeaoafua that millions of dollars come pouring in to different ASG departments and agencies but when high officials are summoned to appear before the Fono to answer questions regarding money matters, they only show up with one or two sheets of paper. "This is not a good thing," Faimealelei said.
The Aua faipule then looked up to the gallery and addressed the DHSS employees who were present (most of them deputy directors and program managers) and told them that no matter how low or how high their positions may be, they need to carry out their jobs faithfully and diligently because "if you are faithful in the least, you will eventually lead and be at the front of bigger and better things."
Emotions started to show when Faimealelei referred to Taeaoafua's resume, which indicates that he attained his masters and doctorate degrees from Brigham Young University, a school rooted in the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Faimealelei then referred to the last page of Taeaoafua's resume which notes that he is an active member of the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa, in which his parents served as ministers for many years. "I'm glad you are still active in the church that your parents committed their lives to," Faimealelei concluded.
Taeaoafua, and even some family members in the gallery, got teary-eyed when this was mentioned.
At the end of the hearing, Taeaoafua said, "I will go humbly." He said American Samoa is a place that has always been blessed because it is a place that is supported by the prayers and the best wishes of our ancestors and parents. "O Samoa o se nu'u e tapua'iina," he said. "That is why you all are sitting in those seats and it is the reason why I am sitting here across from you today," Taeaoafua told the lawmakers, to which all the faipule nodded in agreement. "Our parents bow their heads and are on their knees day and night praying for our success and it is evident in all the good things that this territory has been blessed with.”
Before the hearing concluded, Taeaoafua assured all the faipule that every DHSS employee seated in the gallery took leave to attend the hearing.