Ag director nominee confirmed in House
The Ulu summit, Agriculture Office in Manu’a, cocoa plantation, assistance for farmers and issues pertaining to the market place were brought up during Lealao Melila Purcell's confirmation hearing in the House of Representatives last week.
The hearing was held the day before the vote, with the Government Operations Committee chaired by Tualauta faipule Florence Vaili Saulo, the committee's co-chair. Lealao was unanimously confirmed in the House of Representatives in a vote of 15-0.
Rep. Fagasoiai Lealaitafea commended Lealao for the positive changes he’s made for the betterment of the Agriculture Department but cautioned the nominee to be mindful of his subordinates because they are underpaid for the hard work they do. He also urged compassion "…when it comes to the farmers and assist them in any way your department can."
Manu’a faipule Fetu Fetui Jr. also pointed out Agriculture's underpaid employees and chided Lealao for neglecting Manu'a since his appointment as director.
“You have done nothing to assist the people in Manu’a. The employees of this department who have been working for more than 20 years, are only making $8,000 to $10,000 and this should change… be attentive of your subordinates because it's these people who are carrying out the job on the daily basis,” he said. Fetu urged Lealao to have a heart for the Manu’a people and make it his priority to look in the issues pertaining to Manu’a involving Agriculture.
Lealao claimed there are plans already in place for the Agriculture employees in Manu’a which have been revealed to the governor. He testified that taro for planting in Ofu and Olosega have been distributed, but their goal is to have a taro plantation in Ta’u and within two weeks he will head to Manu’a to assess these plantations, with plans to have another plantation near Manu’a High School, given that there are findings from the USDA for these projects.
Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga asked which department the Market place is under and where the funds from the market fees and leases go.
Lealao explained the market is overseen by three departments — the Department of Commerce, which funded the market, the Department of Marine Wildlife Resources and the Department of Agriculture. He said the DMWR Director does not wish to be affiliated with the market place anymore, given that hardly anyone sells fish at the fish market; the businesses and restaurants are overseen by DOC while, DOA manages the farmers, who sell fresh produce.
Lealao said he believes there should only be one department that oversees the market place and this is something he will definitely look into.
He said that the funds collected from businesses are deposited into an account overseen by the DOC, and the money from the farmers are deposited into the Market's Enterprise Fund. However, since the new governor took over, he has canceled the account under DOC and instructed all the monies be deposited into the Market's Enterprise Fund.
Vaetasi urged Lealao to consider hiring more employees for the DOA in Manu’a, because there is a lot of land available in Manu’a for plantations and also for new developments. He opined that maybe DOA should look into having a piggery farm with sows from Samoa.
Fagatogo faipule Mauagaoalii Sipa Anoa’i observed the market was open on Sundays, yet there are churches right across from the market, so during evening services, people at the market make too much noise, causing disturbances during services.
Lealao said he will look into this issue, but it's DOC that determines what time the market opens and closes.
Rep. Timusa Lam Yuen asked the nominee to speak briefly about the outcome of the ulu summit.
The nominee said there are breadfruit (ulu) being brought from off island because there is no breadfruit left (right now), and they are hoping to buy some more ulu trees, with the intention of planting the them all over the island. They are also looking at plantings of the “ma’afala” ulu in Manu’a.
Lealao said they are working closely with the Samoa government in the production of flour from the ulu and the local Agriculture lab will be used to test these new developments.
Rep. Vaamua Henry Sesepasara asked about developing cocoa (koko) industry. The nominee explained that there are a lot of koko trees on island and they anticipate bringing in more.
He said there is currently a business in San Francisco that is interested in the koko and we have local families who will be selling their koko to this company, while another company, which makes chocolate in Salt Lake City, is also interested in the koko and this is the main goal of the DOA is to assist the families and help them meet with the vendors for their benefit.
The Senate confirmation hearing date for the nominee has not been determined, but is expected for sometime this week.
Updated 3/18/13 at 4:46 pm to relfect who chaired the committee.