Gov's rep appears before UN Decolonization Committee
American Samoa made two recommendations to the UN Decolonization Committee in its presentation calling to remove the territory from the list of colonized territories during the Pacific Regional Seminar (May 30- June 1st) held in Quito, Ecuador.
The first is that the administering powers take a more active role in the self determination efforts of their non-self governing territories; and the second is that American Samoa itself take a pro-active role in its self determination efforts through a more structured approach.
The recommendations were made by the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel, Toetasi Tuiteleleapaga, who represented Gov. Togiola Tulafono at the seminar, as he was unable to attend because he was in neighboring Samoa attending that country’s 50th Independence celebration.
Samoa News obtained a copy of Tuiteleleapaga’s official six-page statement made available through the United Nation’s media center.
Tuiteleleapaga noted that American Samoa has asked the committee over the past several years to be removed from the list of colonized territories “because we felt our unincorporated and unorganized status was akin to being self governing.”
“While we do not advocate a change in our position of removal from the list of colonized states, American Samoa must continue to progress politically and economically while representing the concerns of the United States and the United Nations in this process,” he said.
“One of the most challenging issues that American Samoa has to deal with in our relationship with the United States is the lack of understanding for American Samoa’s unique circumstances and characteristics,” he said and recalled that in recent years he has detailed the territory’s experience with regard to the U.S. minimum wage.
He declared that American Samoa’s economy “was forced to bear the increase of minimum wages without consideration of the impact” on the local economy or the job sector.
“I bring this matter to the attention of the Committee once again because of the high potential for this situation to be repeated,” he said. “Today it is minimum wage, tomorrow it could be American Samoa’s immigration and customs system — two areas of control that would significantly hamper American Samoa’s future self determination efforts.”
“To this end, I recommend a more active involvement of the administering powers in the self determination efforts of their non-self governing territories,” he said and shared with the meeting background information on the the 2008 Future Political Status Study Commission report as well as the 2010 Constitutional Convention.
“Although the referendum of Constitutional changes were rejected, through this process I have become convinced that this must be done regularly in order to keep the minds and hearts of the people open to the possibility of political change, especially where development, political and economic, are critical to moving the territory forward,” he said.
He also said that over the years, American Samoa has tried, “with little success” to promote our “unique and special circumstances which often leave us on the outside looking in,” adding that such situations have resulted in undesirable results for the territory as a whole with regard to air passenger and cargo service to and from the islands.
“The general rules that work for the country do not always take into consideration what is best for a territory that is so far isolated from the rest of the country that its needs and requirements represent the perfect instance for waiver from rules whose intent is protection,” he complained.
Also, with regard to certain education programs, where American Samoa needs help the most, there have been instances where American Samoa, along with other territories. has been categorically excluded, he said.
“This uneven treatment of American Samoa has resulted in a federal policy toward the territory that is accomplished on a piecemeal basis,” he said. “While American Samoa endeavors to deal with these situations as they present, the much better way is to be proactive, and to reach better results on policies based on scientific and forward thinking methodologies, and not based on a reaction to certain events.”
The Committee was also informed that the U.S. Department of Interior continues to assist the territory with general operations, infrastructure and technical assistance needs, “but the development of the territorial economy is hampered by limited resources which inherently pit the interests of a tiny remote island against the needs of several hundred million U.S. citizens.”
“The result of this state of affairs is that American Samoa’s interests and the development of our economy are usually outweighed by the more pressing needs of many,” he said and noted that this is not to blame the federal government.
“I state this to simply point out that in many, many instances, the interests of a tiny remote island in the middle of the South Pacific do not carry the day.”
“It is with this in mind that I set forth the aforementioned recommendation,” he said. “I believe that a more structured approach to determine the will of the people would be better implemented and carried out over the future if there were a detailed work plan on how best to gauge the people’s will on political status, complete with benchmarks for carrying this plan into action, such as periodic commissions and constitutional conventions which provide for the discussion of such mechanisms for determining the political will of the people.”
He also informed the committee that American Samoa continues to share a very close relationship with the U.S. as one of its biggest supporters of armed service, adding that American Samoa has one of the highest rates of enlistment in the U.S. military.
“American Samoans have a great affinity for the United States, its ideals and its protections that are afforded to their people,” he added.