Governor Lolo opens up during trip to Samoa
American Samoa Governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, was a man on a mission in Samoa last week. “There were two issues I came for,” he told the Sunday Samoan during an exclusive interview at Hotel Millennia.
INTER SAMOA TALKS AT A GLANCE:
• Immigration - high number of Samoans in jail
• Exports - no brain on taro
• Teachers and doctors wanted
• Jobs with new cannery in Pago
“One was to officially invite him (Tuilaepa) and the Head of State along with a dancing group and a fautasi group to our flag day…in April. “And secondly to discuss the inter- Samoa conference.
That is why I am here, just to make sure we get that on the right track.”
During a dinner meeting on Wednesday night, and a golf game on Thursday, Governor Lolo and Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, thrashed out what was important to both nations and how they could help each other move forward. One of the issues they discussed was the interisland talks. Gov. Lolo took office in January 2013.
The conference was meant to be held the same year, but Lolo has other ideas. He said the Samoan government wanted to discuss the summit even before he even took office. According to Gov. Lolo, Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister, Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo, came to his hotel before his inauguration and asked if they could start discussions on the Samoa talks.
“They came to start the talks even before my inauguration,” he said.
“Fonotoe and his group came to the hotel and I told him ‘give me time, let me sit down and see what I have, I cannot just jump into something I don’t know’.
“Politically it may be good for them, but to me I want something that will benefit our people too and you cannot just get involved (in the talks) for nothing.
“So I just like to bide my time, to understand and find a better approach to this.
“This is not something small, it is affecting our people’s lives and for you to go in without knowledge of what’s going on can really put you in trouble. “So I was doing that, purposefully, slowing down the process to make sure that my people find time to understand what is going on.”
He said the issues on the table were complicated and he wanted time to research those issues.
“I wanted to make sure that we provided the best possible options for our island,” he said. “It is not just something that will be a win-win situation for the two Samoas. “You can’t just walk in knowing nothing, you have to understand the impact of those issues on the people…to make sure that what you do and what you decide on will be beneficial to the people.
“So you have to learn to negotiate, what to give up and what to hold on to.
“So I told them that is why I delayed, because I don’t want to come with empty hands. I want to come in knowing exactly what I am dealing with.”
Gov. Lolo said high on the Samoan government’s agenda is the issue of immigration.
“That is the number one area that I am pretty sure that this government is interested in,” said Gov. Lolo. They want “to get a free throw of that which will help our commerce but at the same time we should be mindful of our social problems that arise out of that.”
“A lot of our social problems back home stems from the population over here.”
The social problems he is talking about include the high number of young Samoans that populate American Samoa’s jail. He estimates that of just over 200 inmates, between 80 to 90 per cent were from Samoa. Asked why he thought this was, he put it down to the difference in lifestyle between the two islands. “Most of the them come on a 30-day permit so when they come I guess they see the change in lifestyle,” he said.
“So they tend to blend into it. It is going to cost somebody so we are trying to find ways to deal with that.”
Other issues broached during the interview were that of Samoan Taro exports into the territory, education and the tuna industry. For the farmers of Samoa, Gov. Lolo quelled any fears about the banning of Samoan Taro exports into the territory. “No,” he said.
“It is just that we are pushing our people to develop plantations and fisheries and so forth. So when we have a supply then we kind of slow down on the incoming.
“But there is no intention of putting a stop to it, that it is part of our cultural development that we need to improve.”
An educator by trade, education is something Gov. Lolo understands. It’s something he wants to better on his side of the Dateline. “I told my Director of Education to find ways to improve the classroom instructions,”he said.
“So we hire teachers from all over but I feel very comfortable having teachers and doctors from Samoa, generally speaking, because when they come they understand our situation.
“Unlike when we hire people from Virginia or New Mexico who have no clue what Samoa is like.”
He said it was for this reason he felt comfortable having his Director of Education, Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin Finau, work with people in Samoa to see if they could help out American Samoa.
“We are trying to push, you know, to make sure even doctors...from here because they speak our language, they know how we feel and they understand the Samoan surrounding,” said Gov. Lolo.
He said this was one of the biggest areas he was looking to Samoa to help with. “We have been having a lot of problems in our education system,” he said.
“I mean the American system is a big failure too, but for our own people we would like to see some improvement from the stance of our children in the last twenty, thirty years.
“So we have been pushing our children to speak English, learn in English and that is very unfair.
“That is why I called our education conference late last year in October the idea was to get some input, from the community, the business people, the clergy, the educators.
“Because our experience and the data that we have from 20-30 years ago shows the gap between the performance in our children compared to their counterparts in the States was narrow.
“Now it is beginning to widen up but I thought, because I myself who is a teacher…I know what it takes.
“So for us to force our young people especially at the early level to learn in English when they speak Samoan at home and everything…I don’t know how and I think that might be the problem. “I am devising a change to allow our Samoan as a medium for learning inside the classroom along with English.”
Moving on to an area that has generated considerable bipartisan support in the past, Gov. Lolo talked about fish and how the opening of a new cannery is something that is good for both Samoas.
“It is a very, very complicated issue because we deal with it on different levels,” he said.
“There is an international level, there is a federal level and we have local concerns too. “So we are different in a lot of ways but my number one priority when it comes to fisheries is to make sure that we protect the interests of our two canneries over there. “So wherever they stand, we tend to stand with them.”
He said this was because of the “impact on the global fishing industry and our minimum wage stands to be much, much higher compared to other countries who hire people at a $1.75 an hour versus our (approximately) $5 an hour. “So we try to be as flexible as we can and make sure we provide some competitive advantage.”
An advantage that both Samoas could benefit from is the opening of a new cannery next year.
“I know when we open our Tri Marine cannery next year we are hoping to get some help from here with the employment,” he said.
“Right now they employ a little over a hundred people and hopefully when they finish the canning factory they will be able to employ at least 1,000 employees. “That is where I depend on Samoa because there are so many young people here who need a job.
“I briefly mentioned that to the Prime Minister, so hopefully this will benefit the two Samoas.”
Coming back to the reason Gov. Lolo was here in the first place – the inter- Samoa talks – Gov. Lolo believes the best way to move forward is to do so from a cultural perspective.
“Everything is a challenge especially when we don’t have the full authority to deal with an independent state like Samoa,” he said.
“We have a very limited authority when it comes to dealing with foreign policy.
“So I am trying to keep the difference between the two but at the same time we are promoting self-governance and so forth and we feel strongly that our people should have the final say.
“So it leads towards a lot of things.” Including, he said, “political status – but that is the biggest challenge we have I know the (U.S.) State Department is looking at us and seeing what we are doing.
“I raised the question when I was in Washington, where we stand on some issues.
“So I feel we are not interfering with any foreign policy.”
He said this is why he wants to approach the talks from a cultural, rather than a political angle.