Gov: “The problem… I realize, is not with the federal gov’t, it's with us”
While the federal government has provided millions of dollars in federal funds and grants to assist American Samoa with items such as improving infrastructure and building the economy, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said ASG is not doing its part in making sure that the money is spent.
ASG’s relationship with the U.S. Department of Interior and the federal government was one of the many issues that Lolo discussed with directors at last Thursday’s cabinet meeting. He shared with directors that he is one person who has pointed fingers at the federal government, for “giving us” less in federal funding.
“But as I sit down and reflect upon this relationship, it makes me wonder — how we survived for a long time under this relationship” with the federal government, especially the DOI, he said.
“The problem... I realize, is not with the federal government, it's with us. They have been very generous, very good all these years, but we fail to do what we should do. They have given us enough to put in[to] this economy to move us forward to the... next few steps, but we’re not in the process of doing that,” he said.
“How do I know that?” Lolo asked, and provided the answer saying that most of the Capital Improvement Project funds for education, health and other departments are still four and five years behind in using those monies.
For example, he said ASG still has CIP money from 2007 and 2008 — unused — and urged ASDOE to move forward with this CIP funding, which includes money for their buses. “Get that money down and use it to develop our economy,” he said.
The governor also says there is funding in CIP for the mental health facility that needs to be utilized — but this project has yet to go anywhere. According to Lolo, he has instructed certain department heads such as Public Works and Procurement to get some of these projects moving.
“So don’t blame the federal government, don’t blame DOI. They have been giving us money every year,” he said and told directors to “make things happen” by bringing down those federal funds and using them. (American Samoa gets around $10 million annually in CIP funds)
Lolo also told directors that he met for 30 minutes with the new Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell at last month’s meeting of the Western Governors Association. He described Jewell as a “down to earth person” and “she’s very sincere, as far as I know, in discussing issues regarding American Samoa. The first thing she asked of me — ‘How is the power, how is the water, I know you have problems with education. What’s the real problem?'”
“It’s only fair that I tell her the truth,” the governor said. He recalled saying to Jewell during their meeting, “You’ve been very generous. Your office has been very supportive of us, but it’s us that’s not acting on those things. So at least give me a year to work on those things.”
Lolo went on to inform directors that American Samoa has been getting a lot of great support all these years from DOI, “through our own people... who have taken leadership positions in the department that allows us to get what we have.” (The governor was referring to American Samoa's native son, Nikolao Pula, executive director of the DOI’s Office of Insular Areas and Lydia Faleafine-Nomura, a native daughter, who is DOI’s field representative based in Pago Pago).
The governor also noted that Congressman Faleomavaega Eni in Washington D.C. has contributed much to the territory, as well as continuing to push DOI in “support for us, not given to other territories.”