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Gaoteote once again selected for Senate seat, despite county protocol

Vaifanua county traditional leaders have re-selected current Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie for a second four-year term as their senator and its understood that Gaoteote will again seek the Senate leadership post when the new Legislature is sworn into office next month.

The decision by the Vaifanua county council of chiefs and other traditional leaders was made last Saturday during the county meeting held in Gaoteote’s home village of Vatia, according to three individuals who attended the meeting, which lasted some three hours.

Information received by Samoa News states that it was the “faletolu” county councils’ turn to take up the Vaifanua seat in the Senate. This is according to long standing traditional protocol for many counties, in which their Senate seat is rotated within the county’s villages or county councils.

For Vaifanua, the Faletolu traditional council comprises the villages of Onenoa, Tula and Alao, and it was a traditional leader of Alao, who argued that it was their turn to take up the seat, in accordance with county protocol.

Vaifanua county is comprised of Alao, Aoa, Onenoa, Tula and Vatia villages.

Prior to the meeting Samoa News had already learned that Gaoteote was again going to vie for the county’s seat and he did so when the county leaders convened to select its senator on Saturday.

Samoa News was told that after lengthy traditional  Samoan speeches and input from other county leaders, the Samoan tradition of respect and wisdom provided the county leaders with a final decision for Gaoteote to return to the Senate.

According to the Revised Constitution of American Samoa as well as the American Samoa Code Annotated (the law book): “Senators must be elected in accordance with Samoan custom by the county councils of the county or counties they are to represent. The decision of the members of the county councils must be certified by the county chiefs of such counties.”

“Samoan custom” cited in the constitution and the law refers to the traditional meeting process to select a senator.

A military retiree, Gaoteote  was unanimously elected by the Senate on Jan. 3, 2009 as the Senate President. It was Gaoteote’s first term as senator, after serving in the House. 

After being elected Senate president, he told senators at the time that his goal is to work together with his colleagues and to serve for the betterment of the people and government of American Samoa.

Gaoteote became a thorn in the side of the Togiola Administration during the last two years of his leadership, firing back at the governor following any criticism of the Senate, and lashing out at the government for failure to provide sufficient financial reports and information, which would allow the Senate to fully understand money bills before voting upon them.

Long time political observers saw Gaoteote as a strong supporter of the Togiola Administration in the beginning, but that didn’t last long. “It was common knowledge at the outset of Gaoteote’s term that he was a strong supporter of Togiola. Everyone involved in politics and community events knew it,” said one political observer, who has watched local politics for years.

“But that cozy relationship between the Senate leader and the governor didn’t last long. Perhaps it's for the good — a check and balance in government. The Senate checks on the Executive Branch,” the observer said.

Considered by many in the community as one of the biggest achievements of  Gaoteote’s Senate leadership — and to the credit of many senators — was the fact that the Senate continued for two years to strike down any tax or fee increases proposed by the Togiola Administration, with many senators demanding that the administration provide more details and financial reports to support the need for such fees and tax hikes.

Meanwhile other county councils have scheduled meetings over the next couple of weeks for their senators to be selected before all members of the Legislature are sworn into office at 12noon on Jan. 3, 2013.

Samoa News has received reports of traditional leaders who are hoping to be selected by their county councils and who also plan to seek the Senate President’s post, and will continue to report on the selections as they occur.

Samoa News reporter Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.