Commentary: People (First) United for Change

Twenty-two percent (22%) of American Samoa’s voting age population “united for change” on November 20,  to give Governor Lolo Moliga a six-point margin of victory over Faoa Sunia.

(Why do I write “22%”? Because the number of votes received by Lolo and Lemanu (6,645) represents about 22% of the population of American Samoa 18-years of age or older. The number is so low because there are 10,000-15,000 adult foreign nationals living in American Samoa who are not eligible to vote, and because not all the US Nationals and Citizens who are eligible to vote register to vote, and because almost 30% of those who did register to vote did not cast a ballot.)

What changes can we expect from the new administration?

The Lolo campaign proclaimed “people first” and often emphasized what will be the four pillars for a Lolo administration:

1) Unity (working together with the Fono, Congressman, Chamber of Commerce, and all sectors of our society),

2) Equality (no undeserved special treatment for some people at the expense of others),

3) Transparency (no secrets in government and governance), and

4) Accountability (setting high expectations and delivering consequences for failing to meet those expectations).

Despite leveling strong criticism and discontent with the government (under Togiola-Faoa) during the campaign and since, Lolo used a calm voice and soothing words to deliver his message. His oratory was not designed to stir up strong emotional reactions, as befits a campaign devoted to unity in the country.

Since winning election, the Lolo camp has continued to tread softly, mixing a message of coming change, patience, and inclusion.

But now Lolo is Governor. There is no more “Lolo Camp”; there is only the “Lolo Administration.” The time for talk is over. The time for action is upon us. We will see the change for ourselves as of today.

The territory awaits the coming change with Samoan patience and Samoan anticipation (also known as “gossip, rumor, and speculation”). Very soon, we will have plenty to gossip about and less to speculate about.

So far, the biggest news of the new administration is the appointment of William “Bill” Haleck to serve as Commissioner of Public Safety. Haleck, one of Dorothy and Otto Haleck’s children, has been a law enforcement officer for decades. He held leadership positions in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and elsewhere. He is a Top Cop, and his appointment, along with Afoa Lutu as Attorney General signals a movement in the direction of professional appointments and a new approach to law enforcement.

According to Iulogologo Joe Pereira, a three-person committee (members of which are not publicly known) screens cabinet applications and provides a briefing to Governor Lolo and Lt. Governor Lemanu, who make the final decision. A background check is conducted on all potential nominees before an announcement is made.

Pereira said that Lolo and Lemanu have made final decisions for several other cabinet posts, but no announcement can be made until background checks are satisfactorily completed.

The senior aide said there will be some people disappointed by some of the decisions, but Lolo and Lemanu are committed to picking the best person for the job, and that might mean that some strong campaign supporters are not nominated for cabinet positions.

I’m sure that is sad for the people who don’t get the posts they were hoping for, but as a citizen of the territory, I say: “Hallelujah.” Without terrific leadership from the Governor’s Office, the territory is not going to move forward. But that leadership will be wasted and fruitless without terrific department directors (and a major reorganization of the American Samoa Government).

The appointment of Solomona Aoelua to serve as Lt. Governor’s top aide is another good initial move. Aoelua was a senior staff member for Congressman Faleomavaega Eni the past 14 years, and he will hopefully be able to help our Governor’s Office and our Congressman’s Office work together productively for the betterment of the territory. His extensive experience in Washington, D.C. will, we hope, be an important asset to the new administration.

Because while we need terrific Governor’s Office leadership and terrific department directors, we also need terrific relations with our Congressman and terrific inside moves in Congress and amongst federal agencies.

Another good start was yesterday's People's Inauguration, which included an appropriate amount of culture, tradition, protocol, church, and government. The Malae o le Talu venue was a good choice. It was reassuring to be physically located in the middle of a triangle that includes the other two branches of our movement: the Fono and the Courts. It was a relief to get away from the wide-open spaces at Veterans Memorial Stadium and get back to the intimate timeless feeling of the Fagatogo malae.

The crowd appreciated the honors accorded to Governor Togiola Tulafono and his wife MaryAnn, and the crowd enjoyed singing "Ua Tasi Lave Oe" as they bid the Togiolas a fond adieu. After all, the point of the inauguration was to clearly establish that there's a new Sheriff in town now.

It was comforting to see the leaders of Samoa pay us honors with their presence, and the mellifluous oratory of PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi reaffirmed the Samoan bonds that tie our territory to the independent state.

The lunch boxes have been eaten, the trash has been collected, the tents struck and put away, and now the dawn of the Lolo/Lemanu administration has arrived. God Bless our leaders, past and present.

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