Governor announces free shipping to Manu’a for biz and private sector
Several issues were on the agenda for last week’s cabinet meeting where Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga discussed shipping free of charge goods to Manu’a, ASG helping with the clean up of schools, supporting the private sector and announcing planning committees already in place for major events this year.
FREE SHIPPING TO MANU’A
Shipments of goods and other products for store owners and residents in the Manu’a island group will be “free of charge” when taken on board the MV Sili with the new policy starting with tonight’s voyage of the government owned vessel.
Lolo said an official letter was going out to the Department of Port Administration on this issue. He said residents of Manu’a are paying higher costs because of having to ship goods and other items to the island group.
For example, he said a pack of cigarettes that costs $4 or $5 on Tutuila is $9 at stores in Manu’a; and a small box of chicken costs $11 in Manu’a, while it is around $5 on Tutuila.
The governor recalled that when Manu’a residents applied for home repair loans at the Development Bank of American Samoa, an additional amount was added on to cover the costs of shipping. For example, if the loan was $10,000 there was an additional request for $3,000 to cover the shipping costs of materials and supplies from Tutuila.
Lolo says changes must be made to assist Manu’a residents, who are dependent on goods being shipped from Tutuila. The governor did make clear that all passengers traveling on the MV Sili are still required to pay the set fares and the government will only subsidize cargo to Manu’a.
“Manu’a will never be developed unless we do something different. So let's start with shipping those things free of charge,” he said.
Manu’a residents welcome this move by the Lolo administration. When contacted over the weekend for comments, a storeowner on Ta’u island said, this is “welcomed news” and confirmed that prices of items sold in Manu’a stores are much higher.
“This is helpful for store owners depending on shipping products to Manu’a. And prices are even higher if we have no choice but to ship by plane,” said the storeowner, who asked not to be identified.
A private resident, who also asked not be identified, said shipping free of charge is very helpful. “It's sad when your family members on Tutuila purchase supplies for families in Manu’a and then have to pay the shipping costs on a government vessel — it is just too much for anyone,” said the resident in a phone interview from Ta’u.
Lolo also revealed that his first official visit to Manu’a is set for Tuesday (tomorrow) morning and he will travel on the ASG plane Segaula. He will travel with other ASG officials heading first to Ofu and Olosega islands followed thereafter to Ta’u island.
He said the focus now is to “assist Manu’a in our economic development and the only way we can do that is spend time and money and effort to make sure that we are doing something for Manu’a.”
As part of the government’s community service, Lolo has directed his cabinet to sign up as partners to clean and beautify both public and private schools in American Samoa.
“This is part of our community service. I think we have to reinstate in the hearts of our people that doing something for the community, is something that we all should be proud of,” Lolo told directors.
The governor pointed out that schools in the territory need support and help in cleaning and beautification. He recalled the time he was president of the Development Bank of American Samoa when staff and management went out to help paint, clean and beautify certain schools in the territory.
Lolo expects the larger authorities such as the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority and the American Samoa Power Authority to pick the “toughest” schools to take care of. For example, he says ASPA can fix plumbing issues.
He said the Governor’s Office will sponsor Fagaitua High School and Manu’a High School. “We will work on our plan for the two high schools,” he said adding that it's important that the government play a role in providing for the community in areas where help is needed.
“We cannot just take money from the government and the people without giving back to our community. So giving back to our community has to come from us leaders,” he said.
YOUTH EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM
The Department of Human Resources has received 1,000 applications for the summer youth part time employment program this year, but only 100 slots are available based on funding for fiscal year 2013, said Lolo who has directed departments and agencies to make room for at least two slots to employ all of the applicants.
According to the governor it costs around $600 per person for employment in the summer program, which is about six weeks or so. “If you employ six people, its just like you are traveling to [Washington] D.C. and spending that much money,” he told directors. “Instead of you traveling [to D.C], set aside money for five employees.”
Lolo said he expects the larger authorities such as the American Samoa Power Authority and the American Samoa TeleCommunications authority to employ at least 10 students within their respective organizations.
“…let's give our young people a chance to [get]... a taste of what working is all about. Most importantly, these kids are from low income or have no income in their families,” he said and noted that application qualification is that the student must be from a low-income family.
He said the Governor’s Office will take five students. “So giving $600 per student will enable that student to buy school supplies for the next school year or buy food for the family,” if that family is considered low income or has no income, he said.
“Let's finds ways so that we can absorb some of the costs, by give our own young people the opportunity to feel or to have a sense of what working is all about,” he said and urged directors to build this into the yearly funded programs throughout the years of his administration.
“Find ways to absorb this cost and include it in our annual budget,” he stated.
PRIVATE SECTOR SUPPORT
Although it's 12 months away, the theme has been declared by the Lolo Administration for the 2014 Flag Day celebration, which already has a committee working on preparations after this year’s successful one-day ceremony.
Lolo said he and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga have decided that next Flag Day celebration in 2014 will be dedicated to the business community.
According to the governor ever since the late 1800s, business has been developing this island , but “there was never a time that the business community was recognized for their contribution to our community.”
“We want to thank them for being part of growing our economy and for helping us where we are today,” he said and noted the planning committee is already in place to work on next year’s celebration.
He also says that he has asked ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ Pili and the Tax Exemption Board “to sit down and look into exemptions, giving our people, our businesses a chance to grow. That’s the whole idea behind having the government support business.”
“Most of the money that we see today — taxes on the wharf, corporate taxes, individual taxes — is all part of our business community,” Lolo told directors. “So we have to nurture and develop our business community to make sure that they continue to grow, prosperous and make money and in turn develop more jobs for our people.”
During this year’s Flag Day the governor thanked the private sector for their contribution and support in the development of the local economy by providing jobs for local residents.
Lolo also announced major events for this year with planning committees in place to take care of the details.
For May, the major event is Senior Citizen’s Week and the Territorial Administration on Aging is responsible for the coordination of activities and the announcement.
The next major event is the 4th of July celebration marking the birthday of the United States of America. Lolo says this is an important day for the U.S. and American Samoa will fully participate in this annual event during the four years of his Administration. “We need to celebrate [this day] especially for our kids,” he said adding that this celebration is done as part of the government honoring youth in July with the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs in charge of the planning.
In November, it will be the celebration and promotion of tourism and other cultural activities with the American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau and the Department of Agriculture in charge of the planning activities. Lolo says that the territory will also mark on Nov. 11 the annual Veterans Day celebration.
For December, it's the annual ASG Christmas Program, which since its creation more than a decade ago, has been government agencies and departments performing Christmas carols and skits. But Lolo says there will be a change this year with the administration reaching out to the community — youth, churches and other groups — to participate. (Samoa News notes there was also an annual Christmas singing program sponsored by the territory’s Arts Council, comprising village and church groups.)