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DOC seeks public input on plan for economic development

A territorial general plan on the implementation of economic development strategies is being prepared by the government and public input will be solicited before giving it to the governor for approval, says Department of Commerce director Keniseli Lafaele.


The director also says American Samoa’s 2013 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report submitted to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) was approved last month by the federal agency.


More than a week ago Congressman Faleomavaega Eni wrote to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga saying that the territory’s CEDS report submitted to EDA lacks critical information in the implementation phase of the strategy. (The Congressman didn’t say whether or not the report had been approved by EDA.)


Faleomavaega noted that 80% of state and territory CEDS do not include  the aforementioned critical information for the implementation phase.


“I suppose we're one of the majority, the 80%,” said Lafaele responding to Samoa News inquiries for comments on the Congressman’s letter.


Consultants Malcolm McPhee and Lewis Wolman were contracted to write the CEDS for the DOC, and EDA awarded a $60,000 grant to ASG in 2010 to prepare the CEDS, but the previous administration didn’t start on the project until May last year.


“Perhaps the amount of funds available for this project was just sufficient to cover the scope of work included in the CEDS,” said Lafaele. “Public input was solicited and the DOC staff comments and addendum were included in the final CEDS document that was submitted and approved.”


He also said the implementation of development strategies is included in the CEDS and the Governor’s Economic Advisory Council report, and the overarching Territorial General Plan is being prepared by the DOC staff, and Governor's Office  — in particular, the Governor's senior policy adviser — Dr. Oreta Crichton.


The governor will either appoint a task force or a commission, i.e the Territorial Planning Commission — to review this document, and solicit input from the community — businesses, villages, and NGOs.


“This should address the Congressman's valid concerns about lack of a wider public participation in the decision making process,” said Lafaele. “If approved by the governor, I suspect this plan will then be submitted in the form of a proposed legislation to the Fono for its review and approval.”


Asked if the EDA sent any official letter regarding the status of the CEDS, Lafaele said, yes, adding that the letter was dated Apr. 15, 2013 from Gail Fujita, the EDA representative for Hawai’i and the Pacific and it states that the American Samoa CEDS Report "meets EDA requirements and is hereby approved".


He said DOC received the letter on Apr. 29 and it further states that “EDA approval of the document means that proposed projects that are consistent with the CEDS meet the current strategy requirement necessary for possible EDA funding support. However, this action by no means guarantees that a proposed project will be financially supported by EDA."


Asked for any other comments on economic development issues, Lafaele said the Ulu project “prominently supported” by Faleomavaega is one of the development strategies included in the CEDS.


“Efforts are ongoing between the two Samoas and the University of Hawaii Pacific Business Center to develop the Ulu fruit into a commercially viable gluten- free product, which will also address our food security needs in the event of natural disasters,” said Lafaele.


In his letter to the governor regarding the CEDS, the Congressman said that for the past several months there have been several discussions held on the ma’afala breadfruit project. 


“This is an example of a potential industry that can be part of adding new industry to our economy,” Faleomavaega said. “The breadfruit industry has a tremendous potential for growth, since breadfruit is used in gluten-free products, and we should pursue this matter as soon as possible.”


During his commencement address last Friday at the American Samoa Community College graduation, Faleomavaega reiterated his support for this project to move forward, to help diversify the economy, which currently comprises the tuna cannery industry only, which has come under extreme pressure from global competition —  some 20 countries have tuna canning facilities.


Speaking at the Honolulu site of the Mar. 12 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco public hearing on the Bank of Hawai’i plans to close operations in the territory, Papali’i Dr. Failautusi Avegalio of the UH-Pacific Business Center told the audience, which included those listening in from American Samoa, that there is an unprecedented opportunity for economic development and viability that needs serious consideration by looking at breadfruit and the development of a food manufacturer industry in the territory for the refinement and processing of breadfruit flour, which has potential of being in high demand in the U.S. market.


He said the U.S. market is unfamiliar with this type of product, but he hopes to change that in seven  or eight months. He said they are working with the EDA to set up infrastructure for the processing of flour and also coordinating with one of the top food distributor logistic companies in the U.S. “The process is just beginning,” he said.