TOGIOLA TELLS FORUM: WE ARE PACIFIC ISLANDS WITH OUR FATE TIED TO REGION
American Samoa governor Togiola Tulafono’s farewell speech was well-received yesterday morning by the Pacific Islands Forum leaders here in Avarua Rarotonga.
“It has indeed been a privilege for American Samoa to be a part of this Forum, as an observer member, this last 12 months,” he said.
“My only regret is not seeking this opportunity much earlier.”
Outside the meeting, Governor Togiola said that it is important for American Samoa to be a part of the regional community and have a voice in regional affairs.
“First and foremost, the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a are Pacific Islands. Its fate is tied up in this region. There are far more pertinent regional issues that affect American Samoa and not the United States. Issues such as fishing, conserving our reefs, maritime security and the multiple impacts of climate change. Even at this point as an observer member, it is important that we understand what the regional issues are, participate and is kept updated on regional developments and steps Pacific Island leaders are taking to alleviate regional problems we’re facing.
“With its relationship with the United States, American Samoa also brings table some of the developments the United States are strongly promoting. For instance, just last week a US taskforce monitoring the issues involved negative impacts of development and climate change on our coral reefs was convened in American Samoa.”
Attending only the second meeting of the Polynesian Leaders Group on the margins of the Forum here on Saturday, Togiola believes the group will become the strongest of the Forum’s regional subgroups.
“The group will continue to grow,” he said.
“From what I can see, the group has the structure, the leadership and the positive mindset, the direction and the drive and the willingness to take on many of the issues that are not only exclusive to Polynesia but the whole region.
Togiola paid particular tribute to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi’s stewardship of the new group.
“I’m very appreciative of his sense of responsibility towards the region. His vision of a better Pacific Islands with the forming of this sub-regional group, the welfare of its people and the caliber of its leadership.”
Deep sea mining has been a major talking point at this year’s Forum with the launch earlier in the week of a framework agreement.
“My concern is basically safeguarding our reefs and lagoons, but if there are rich mineral deposits in the deep sea, then I don’t see any reason why we should not take advantage of it, exploit it for the development of our people. As long as it doesn’t affect our reefs and inshore fisheries.”
Coming to the end of his legal term in office, Togiola said that his successor no doubt will carry the regional momentum that American Samoa has garnered in joining the Forum.
“It’s a given that we (American Samoa) has been moving to foster closer ties with our regional neighbors. In terms of trade, cooperation, in sports with Samoa, Tonga and Fiji and of course New Zealand and Australia. I’m quite certain this emphasis will not be lost on the next incumbent.”
Togiola will be part of the powerful US delegation to the post Forum leaders partnership dialogue on Friday, led by Secretary of State Ms Hillary Clinton. The governor hopes that this will signal a more proactive involvement of the United States in regional affairs.
“It is important that big countries play an active role, provide support for the region’s small islands states. I have no doubt that (president) Obama will win another term in office and will be focusing his foreign policy more on this region in the next four and half years.”