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Commentary: Looks like change to me

Here is what I see in the initial round of cabinet and senior staff appointments from the Lolo administration (I am including the three appointments announced by Governor Lolo last Friday when he met with his cabinet. Those appointments are expected to be publicly announced today: Falema'o Phil Pili as Treasurer, Iuni Savusa as Homeland Security Director, and Le'i Sonny Thompson as Human Resources Director).

I see an administration leaning towards men with a bent for getting an education and climbing the ranks and doing the job in a way that is “right” from a Western perspective (or what we sometimes call a “palagi” perspective, or sometimes when we are unhappy we call it a "fiapalagi" perspective).

Lolo Moliga and Lemanu Mauga and senior aide Iulogologo Joe Pereira recently obtained their master’s degrees in Public Administration.Le'i Thompson has a master’s degree (in Human Resources Administration). Afoa Lutu (Attorney General) has a law degree. Falema’o Phil Pili has his PhD (International Business Administration). Bill Haleck has his college degree in Arts Education, if you can believe the World Wide Web (Haleck also has a great deal of training in law enforcement). Chief of Staff Fiu Johnny Saelua was recently the deputy director at DOE responsible for elementary education. (Fiu's wife, Cathy, who is acting Budget Director, recently earned her master's degree alongside Lolo, Lemanu and Pereira).

Retired Command Sergeant Major Iuni Savusa might not have the same degrees, but he has his AA and he rose to a very high command level in the US Army and completed many trainings where he no doubt excelled (or he wouldn’t have been promoted to be the highest ranking Polynesian non-commissioned officer in the US Army).

Speaking of officers, Lemanu and Le'i were both Majors (Lemanu in the Army and Le'i in the Air Force). Lemanu was initially an enlisted man in the Marines, but switched to Army, became an officer and worked himself up to Major. (He also served as the head of the local JROTC after retiring from active duty).

Lemanu was in the military for 23 years. Le'i served 21 years. Savusa served for more than 30 years. Bill Haleck was in off-island law enforcement for 24 years, serving in many senior-level federal positions.

Lolo and Le'i were raised in Manu’a, and to rise from those humble beginnings to the peaks they’ve reached speaks volume about their career grit.

I see men who have continually sought to rise in the ranks, whether military or civilian, and who pursued education and training to pave the way. I see men who succeeded in the wide world beyond our shores, and then returned home.

I expect they are going to bring a different style of leadership to the American Samoa Government. That might be a big understatement.

(The other appointment, Satele Galu Satele, is a classic story of a very capable Samoan who nevertheless stayed home after high school to take care of family obligations, but was not impeded in his career, as he rose to leadership positions in Procurement and Customs, served his Tualatai district in the Fono, served his Western District as District Governor and is now heading up Samoa Affairs).

Some of the men sketched above have matai titles, and ranking matai titles, but one man, Bill Haleck, does not, and that is another big break from tradition. Many department directors have been untitled, but historically the Commissioner of Public Safety has held a ranking title. It was long believed that was an important qualification for keeping the peace and mediating conflict on this island. Apparently Lolo, who has lived here his whole life and holds a ranking matai title, felt the time had come when Public Safety no longer needed a high titleholder in the Commissioner’s seat.


A series of memos issued on the first day of the Lolo administration covered many of the “hot buttons” related to government mismanagement and abuse. Vehicles, phones, travel, unbudgeted hiring, irregular promotions, etc.

When it is time to tame a jungle, it is good to start with a bulldozer or chain saw, then start using the machete, and finally switch to a small knife or hoe.

The memos represent the bulldozer and chain saw. They get a lot of attention and they will cause a lot of mess. That mess has to be cleaned up, and different tools will be needed. The tools that will be needed require judgment and discernment, not just muscle and horsepower.

For example, many government employees should have government-supplied cell phones. Maybe not as many employees as have them now. But I hope that in the name of cost-cutting, the government doesn’t handicap its employees’ ability to be productive.

Not only should many employees have cell phones, but also many of them should have so-called “smartphones” with Internet access. A productive worker in today’s world needs mobile data, not just a cell phone. A cell phone is a tool for communicating. A smartphone is a tool for getting work done.

Of course, abuse is abuse. Let’s cut out the abuse, but let’s not revert to the 20th century just because some people use their cell phones for personal purposes. Let’s issue people who need cell phones cell phones, and let’s also issue people who need data-enabled smart phones the tools they need to get more done in less time.

And then let’s insist they use the tools in the service of the public, and with a humble heart.

For another example, I hope that all ASG vehicles do NOT have to be parked at the Tafuna Motor Pool every night. Can you imagine how much time is going to be wasted by every department taking cars out to Tafuna in the afternoon and picking them up in the morning? Can you imagine how disruptive that is to people’s commute patterns?

Cars should be parked overnight at the offices of their assigned department. And abuse of government vehicles should be grounds for serious personnel actions. But let’s not make things worse by requiring everyone to come to work, punch in, somehow get to Tafuna to pick up a car, then return to Tafuna to drop off the car 6 hours later, and then somehow get back to the office by 4 pm to punch out. (If you are an ASG employee and you are not presently using a time clock to punch in and out: get ready for some changes! Because a time clock is probably in your near future.)

The same analysis can be applied to the other areas that are subjects of the memos. For example, travel, personnel contracts, etc. Once people have seen the bulldozer and get the message that the jungle is going to be cleared and tamed, I hope that the Lolo administration will act smart, and not just flex its muscle.

Thundering proclamations and draconian pronouncements are useful and serve a purpose, but to really make progress in the major improvements our government needs, we are going to have to wield a machete and then a scalpel.

Anyone can wield a machete, but it takes experience, education, training, judgment, discernment and an ability to keep on learning to use a scalpel effectively.

I see indications that Lolo is appointing people (hopefully we will see some female appointees soon) who can use a scalpel; in the meantime we have the bulldozer clearing the way. The bulldozer gets our attention, but it also breeds resentment and cynicism and generally causes a mess, so the sooner we replace the bulldozer with good, intelligent management, the better.