Gov requests to process passport apps thru his office
Having the Governor’s Office designated as the local entity to accept U.S. passport applications in American Samoa are some of the issues Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga discussed Monday in Honolulu with an official of the U.S. Department of State, the federal agency that oversees the issuance of U.S. passports.
The governor also met with an official of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and an official of the Pacific Rim Bank while in Honolulu.
Lolo, who returned to the territory Monday night, met with Steven J. Mullen of the State Department and requested that the Governor’s Office be designated as a Passport Application Acceptance Facility to facilitate provision of personalized services to local residents who wish to obtain US Passports, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Currently only the U.S. Post Office in Fagatogo handles this process, which was once handled by the local Attorney General’s Office but was taken away by the federal agency more than two years ago, over concerns which remain unknown. At the time, there were allegations of the passport fees being misused by local AG Office employees, however, Samoa News notes there was never an official statement from the feds explaining why the process was removed from local hands.
“Complaints have been filed with the Governor's Office regarding comprehensive assistance to our people, not only in completing the application form but also understanding the required documents to accompany the passport application,” Lolo told Mullen.
The Post Office workers have other responsibilities to attend to, thus negating the investment of time to help applicants thoroughly answer the questions and inclusion of all required documents, the governor noted.
Also requested by the governor is the issuance of U.S. Passport Cards “as a convenience for our people instead of a regular passport which is sometimes cumbersome to carry and often misplaced. With the wallet size Passport Card, these challenges will be eliminated,” the statement notes.
According to the State Department website, the Passport Card can be used for travel to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book.
However, the “passport card cannot be used for international travel by air,” it says and noted that passport card is $55 for a first time adult applicant and valid for 10-years.
The governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira, who traveled with the governor, said Mullen assured Lolo that he will review the requests and he will respond appropriately after thoroughly examining all pertinent factors.
In return, the governor expressed deepest appreciation to Mullen for his frankness and obvious commitment to improve State Department services “to our people”.
Lolo was accompanied to the meeting by Chief Immigration Officer, Dennis Fuimaono and ASG Hawai’i Office director Afimutasi Gus Hannemann.
Lolo also met with V.C. Chu, the director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) Honolulu and among issues discussed were medical mission to American Samoa, incentives for companies to locate facilities in American Samoa, telemedicine diagnostic assistance, visa waiver, appointment of an honorary resident consul to facilitate prompt consideration of emergency issues, and possible visitation by respective parties.
Lolo thank Chu for for making time to meet with him, saying further discussion will be conducted to firm up pathways for collaboration and contributing to mutual benefits for both peoples, according to the media statement.
TECO Honolulu is one of the representative offices of the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the US, and as the director-general, Chu is responsible for enhancing Taiwan’s bilateral economic, cultural, education and tourism ties with Hawai’i and American Samoa, says the TECO website.
Lolo also had the opportunity to meet with Austin Imamura, chief executive officer of Pacific Rim Bank, which is a Honolulu based financial institution, that opened its doors on Feb. 27, 2006.
The media statement says the governor’s meeting with Imamura was on possible financing options for American Samoa. The governor has since notified Development Bank of American Samoa acting president Jason Betham to meet with Lolo to follow up on discussions with Imamura.
Pacific Rim Bank’s website notes that their eBanking Direct program is “much more than just online access to your accounts …you can bank entirely from your home or office without having to come into the branch.”
Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.