issues gov will take up with IGIA: Banking services, debt
The demise of banking services due to the planned departure of Bank of Hawai’i, local immigration law reform and the current deficit that is forecast at more than $44 million are some of the issues Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga plans to raise this month during the annual meeting of the federal Interagency Group in Insular Areas (IGIA) in Washington D.C.
As reported in yesterday’s Samoa News, the governor had written last month to DOI highlighting these and other issues he planned to raise with the IGIA.
The governor in his letter to DOI discussed BoH’s plan to close down its two local branches on Mar. 15 and Lolo says this “leaves me scrambling to find a replacement bank given the devastating impact on our efforts to stimulate the economy.”
He says that “one of the most noted impediments” to local economic development effort is the absence of venture capital to help finance economic development projects. He points out that DOI’s vision for American Samoa to become self sufficient and self reliant will continue to be an intangible proposition.
“One of the reasons given prompting Bank of Hawai’i’s departure is the shrinking economic capacity of American Samoa,” Lolo wrote and noted that BoH’s closure “exacerbates this noted condition.”
“I wonder if there is any help American Samoa can get from the Federal Reserve Bank,” Lolo asked. He also informed DOI of being approached by local businessmen who are organizing a locally owned bank and his administration has committed its support to this venture, “but they have many hurdles to cover .”
The group working toward a locally owned bank have appointed businessman Avamua Dave Haleck as their interim board chairman. Calling itself the Community Bank of American Samoa, the group is seeking all necessary approvals to conduct business in the territory, according the group’s news release last month.
Lolo left Monday night for meetings, which include those with BoH in Honolulu as well as possible meetings with Federal Reserve Bank officials in Washington D.C.
“American Samoa was nationally and internationally embarrassed when it was accused of human trafficking and human rights violations,” Lolo wrote, and though he didn't provide any specific details, Samoa News understands that the governor is referring to the human trafficking case of now closed Daewoosa Samoa garment factory owner, Kil Soo Lee that occurred in the territory some 10 years ago.
“I fear that American Samoa will again become the target of a federal investigation,” he continued. “Review of our existing immigration management information system revealed serious problems with regard to the integrity of the information being collected.”
For example, he said the passport scanners at the Tafuna airport have not been working for a very long time, thus information has to be recorded manually.
In keeping with President Barack Obama’s call for immigration reform, he said, “we are pleased that we are taking steps to mitigate long standing problems in line with the call for immigration reform.”
“The first order of business is to establish a new management information system to capture the data required to track undocumented immigrants entering the territory,” said Lolo, who then requested financial assistance through DOI’s Technical Assistance Program to purchase a new immigration tracking system along with funds for installation and training.
“This is a critical need" he stated.
In his address to the Fono last month, Lolo said that he has directed the attorney general to halt the violation of local and federal laws dealing with “human rights” and “human trafficking”. Additionally, the attorney general has been instructed to redefine all immigration policies, not only to streamline the process, but also “to stop immediately all illegal practices which are severely diluting the composition of our population with the majority comprised of undocumented immigrants.”
Lolo also shared with DOI that ASG’s current estimated deficit exposure of $44.5 million inclusive of the past year deficit accumulation, along with legal liabilities of over $10 million, and $8.8 million in outstanding payables to the American Samoa Power Authority.
“My administration is being hamstrung by these past debts and I am requesting assistance from the Department of Interior,” Lolo wrote but didn’t provide specifics on the type of assistance.
Lolo said he will elaborate further on these issues at the IGIA meting if more explanation is warranted and he looks forward to working closely with the IGIA “as we collectively attempt to fashion solutions to mitigate these debilitating issues.”