Lolo meets with OIA to discuss variety of issues
Decolonization and the territory’s political status, economic development and the federal Essential Air Service program are some of the issues discussed by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs executive director Nikolao Pula during a meeting held over the weekend in Honolulu.
Pula was in Honolulu for the graduation ceremony of the insular areas Leadership Program and met with the governor for discussion on several issues, including seeking out Lolo’s position on the decolonization issue, said Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, the governor’s executive assistant, via email Sunday night from Honolulu.
The governor also affirmed with Pula, during the Honolulu meeting, his earlier request for DOI Technical Assistance to facilitate the demolition of the old Rainmaker Hotel.
“Governor Lolo didn't deviate from the territory's position expressed by other Territorial leaders, except for one added caveat, where Governor Lolo would like to see the people of American Samoa make the final decision on the type of political arrangement our people deem, to reflect their wishes in lieu of the current process where the Congress of the United States is the final authority on the Territory's political status,” Iuloglogo explained.
Past governors have called for American Samoa to be removed from the United Nation’s list of non-self governing territories of the world, arguing that the territory has a much different relationship with the U.S. especially for the fact that American Samoa elects its governor, lieutenant governor, member of Congress and the local House of Representatives.
These and other arguments have been made by the late Gov. Tauese P.F. Sunia and former Gov. Togiola Tulafono, by themselves or their representatives during regional seminars of the UN Decolonization Committee.
The seminars are held every year and this year it was held in Guayaquil, Ecuador from May 28-30. UN Decolonization Committee online records do not indicate whether a representative of American Samoa attended this seminar, and the governor’s office informed Samoa News in mid May that they had not seen an invitation from the UN.
At last year’s seminar, the Togiola administration made two recommendations: that the administering powers take a more active role in the self determination efforts of their non-self governing territories; and that American Samoa itself take a pro-active role in its self determination efforts through a more structured approach.
Lolo also revisited with Pula the “absolute need” for American Samoa to aggressively seek federal support for “our economic development efforts” under the federal cabotage law and the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) program,” said Iulogologo adding that other issues of discussion focused on education and healthcare.
The Essential Air Service (EAS) program was put into place to guarantee that small communities that were served by certificated air carriers before the 1978 deregulation maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s mandate is to provide the EAS communities with access to the national air transportation system. As a general matter, this is accomplished by subsidizing two to four round trips a day — with three being the norm — with a 19-seat aircraft to a major hub airport, according to the USDOT website, which also provides a complete list of current U.S. airports receiving the EAS subsidy.
This federal program has long been discussed and raised over the years by the previous administration and was also raised during meetings in Washington. Congressman Faleomavaega Eni also raised it with the previous administration and the Fono.
The main focus at the time, was to qualify the Manu’a island group under the EAS program.
Faleomavaega even provided specific details of what was needed by ASG in order for Manu’a to qualify for federal subsidy under the EAS program. In 2010, Faleomavaega sent a new report to the Fono, which requested information about the EAS dealing with Manu’a, despite earlier communications from the Congressman to the executive branch as to what was needed.
The Congressman said at that the time that EAS service for Manu’a is on hold until the needed data from American Samoa is received and reviewed by USDOT.
Among the information sought by USDOT were the number of weekly flights that Inter Island was expected to provide the Manu’a Islands; the estimated number of passengers per flight; aircraft type; and the total estimated cost for providing services to Manu’a.
With the new administration at the helm of government, Lolo is pushing for the EAS program to be applied to American Samoa.
During a meeting with Hawaiian Airlines earlier this year, Lolo raised with Hawaiian Airline’s CEO Mark Dunkerley the efforts of Hawaiian relative to accessing the financial benefits embedded in the Essential Air Service as an avenue to reduce airfares to American Samoa.
Dunkerley opined that it would not be morally right for Hawaiian to receive this federal benefit while American Samoa needs this incentive to address its many challenges, according to a news release by the governor’s office.
HAWAI’I HERITAGE WEEK
During the Honolulu meeting, the governor also asked about reformatting the Hawai’i Heritage Week “expanding it as a forum to attract investors to invest in American Samoa,” said Iulogologo.
“The traditional format will continue, but it will be configured also as an economic development promotional event to attract businesses to American Samoa,” he said and noted that additional details of this year’s event will be released soon.
The Samoa Heritage Week, implemented by the Togiola Administration three years ago, focused on — among other things — bringing Samoans together by providing a positive image of Samoans and thereby help attract more visitors to the territory. The week-long event at Keehi Lagoon Park, just outside of the Honolulu International Airport, has been criticized by many in the territory, including lawmakers, saying it was a waste of money to fund the event when there are other urgent needs locally.