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OP ED: E lafulafu tama seugogo, #3

In his remarks at the Afoa and Le’i “Meet the Candidates” event last Saturday, Governor Togiola Tulafono advised his lawyer colleague and friend, Afioga i le Aloali’i, Afoa Leulumoega Su’esu’e Lutu, that he would never land the coveted post if he kept shooting straight arrows; and challenged the gubernatorial candidate to join the fraternity of politicians. 

Although the governor’s remarks were made in jest that drew laughter from the full house, there’s a dark undertone of reality to his words of advice that we have come to realize all too well. The lure of financial opportunities and comfortable life styles winning these elections bring are overwhelming; that our beloved fa’a-Samoa and church are but convenient and essential tools of the (political) trade. Thus playing politicians at all cost to secure victory becomes the battle cry and modus operandi; relevant issues affecting people’s lives are there as decorative ornaments or for fortuity.  

The governor further encouraged Afoa that once he landed the top job as a politician, then “you do your best for your people”. One can either detect a sense of regret on the governor’s part — that if he could turn back the clock, he might have done some things differently or sooner. This is suggested by the onslaught of his proposed bills some of which are good ideas (some bad), but too little too late. Or one can take his advice to mean in a materialistic swagger, like — “look at me now Afoa, this is what you can be if you become a politician”. I would like to believe the former.

Yes, Togiola Tulafono did become lieutenant governor, 16 years ago; and governor of American Samoa eight (and some months) years ago respectively, as a politician. But did he do his best for his people as he advised his friend Afoa? I don’t know; only the governor can answer that question. I know however that if the current state of the territory is his best as the territory’s top leader, he fell inarguably and agonizingly short by the rest of the people, the 99-percenters.

The distribution of the spoils of victory in our small island territory is a business and an economy in itself; thus playing politician to win elections has become more than a means to an end. It became the end. Therein lays the danger in heeding the governor’s advice without careful consideration; because the piper needs to get paid and keep satisfied throughout the terms of office. In so doing, public assets and resources become the domain of a few; and dishing out coveted top public positions (already occurring), business opportunities, and post graduate education opportunities to a select few becomes the necessary costs of maintaining the political engine of the elitist economy. 

That said, is Afoa willing to abandon shooting straight arrows and start firing ones that change direction with the political weather of expediencies; and risk the arrows taking a boomerang turn towards his direction?

I throw caution in the wind and suggest that Afoa and all gubernatorial candidates tread these solemn and turbulent waters with respect, because lives of people had and have been adversely affected by policies based on one-eyed politicking. We are all aware that in our Samoan culture, life is sacred. That life is of God and it is our responsibility, especially leaders to nurture life for the people, whether one is a prince or a pauper.

Someone wondered how ASG has been able to keep afloat after all these years of wasteful spending. The answer is simple and straight forward like an arrow — the 1-percenters are above water, standing on the shoulders of the 99-percenters at and below water, gasping for air; with the annual federal aid as the floating device.

Suffering being experienced by the people runs the range of the spectrum. In a week’s time, ASPA will raise utility rates once again; while the House of Representatives, just this week, approved unanimously a resolution asking ASPA to halt the increase. In an on-going battle with ASPA, the Fono approved only four months of the ASPA 2013 Fiscal Year Budget, while the governor plays an innocent bystander. The people, meanwhile, stand to suffer once again next week; or later if the House of Representative’s band aid resolution (which I believe is aimed at winning votes) is passed.

The governor recently approved the funding of one of the three liability cases ASG lost and denied two. One of the denied cases is a local business which had provided construction services and employment in the territory for many years. There’s no doubt the unpaid balance due the company had an impact on the demise of the company and the owners’ ability to provide for their families and employees. The owner passed a few months ago without seeing a penny of what’s owed him. And sadly the spouse had to suffer the embarrassment of appealing to the court publicly to advance some funds of the court awarded amount to help bury her husband (once a proud man).

The second case is that of a student injured by an ASG vehicle in 2001. The media didn’t state the age of the victim at the time of the accident; but if the student was a teenager, he or she would have grown to be an adult today (if alive) without the benefit of the court awarded settlement, which could have gone a long way to care for his or her injuries.

Contrary to the difficulties the governor and the Fono appear to be having in obtaining funds to satisfy these two local settlements, which affect human life, their resourcefulness to fund the executive pleasure boat (that no longer works), a racing longboat, heritage weeks, a beauty contest, and sending rugby and football teams near and far is amazing. Most amazingly insensitive is the priority the governor and Fono are placing on funding pleasures over alleviating human suffering. 

The governor’s enthusiasm and proactivity in selecting Ms. Leilua Stevenson to preside over the DBAS is commendable given her educational background and work experience, and for giving local talent the opportunity to head such vital development institution. It would have been fair to all prospective applicants however if the position was advertised, and let the normal hiring process take its course. And it would have removed the stench of politics surrounding this otherwise good appointment.

Rumors have it there’s a preferred selection of the next LBJ CEO, and probably that explains the governor’s effort to place a full board as soon as possible. I hope the board however will advertise the job, giving all prospective applicants a chance to apply. But this being the election season, my hope for a fair process is probably in vain.

Now, how about leveling the playing field governor and Fono? Why not apply the same keen sense of resourcefulness, enthusiasm, and proactivity to fund the two court approved settlements for these local families who desperately need the money. And how about working together as leaders as should have been done from day one, to resolve the ASPA fiasco and resolve the oppressive utility rates once and for all; for the sake of the 99% of the population.

Where’s the love? Where’s the fairness? Where’s the humanity? Where’s the leadership?

The message is clear for all candidates and public to see and act upon accordingly. Are we to elect the savviest of politicians and maintain the elitist economy; or spread the “love” among the Public by electing a governor with a loving heart for all people.

Jesus Christ, the ultimate Tama Seugogo, taught us not to fear anyone or anything, but have faith in God to do right by the people; and that’s everyone, not just a few.

God bless Governor Togiola Tulafono, God bless American Samoa!