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ASTCA recovery plan set as Lewis Wolman is poised to take on CEO post

Lewis Wolman in 2014 when he was president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Lolo Administration has already put in place the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority’s Financial Recovery Plan (FRP), which calls “for the immediately settlement of the leadership management issues currently existing” at the ASG telecom provider. This was revealed in a Nov. 13 letter with the subject, “Emergency Fiscal Status of ASTCA”, from Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga to ASTCA board chairman Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet.

However, as of last week, Samoa News has learned that former Samoa News owner and publisher Lewis Wolman has a signed a one-year contract and will be returning next month to pick up the reins at ASTCA as CEO.

In the Nov. 13 letter Lolo explained that the “growing insolvency” of ASTCA “coupled with its inability to complete its revenue generating products package compelled the implementation of emergency measures to reverse this fiscally debilitating downhill trend.”

He points out that the Senate had turned down the measure to allow the financing of the remaining $18 million that ASTCA owes to Hawaiki cable.

Samoa News notes that the governor is referring to the Senate action rejecting an Administration bill - which already passed the House - to hike the local investment rate from 17% to 35% with the ASG Employees Retirement Fund. The bill also had a new proposed provision allowing ASTCA to borrow up to 35% of total Retirement Fund assets for its Hawaiki project.

In his letter, Lolo explained that with the Senate action,  “the option to go out to the bond market to secure needed capital financial was invoked.”

“In order to obtain a good bond rating to reduce the interest payment on our bonds,” he said, the American Samoa Economic Development Authority (ASEDA) presented to Moody’s Bond Rating Company.

As Samoa News reported earlier this month, the total proposed 2018 bond is $51.26 million with a little over $35 million to ASTCA relating to Hawaiki expenditures. (See Samoa News edition Nov. 2nd for details.)

According to the governor, since 67.3% or $35 million of the total bond issue “was to defray ASTCA’s existing and accruing liabilities, Moody was to be reassured that our investment in Hawaiki was a sound economic development decision.”

Accordingly, said the governor, the ASEDA team including Adolfo Montenegro and Lewis Wolman presented ASTCA’s FRP.

“This FRP would empower ASTCA, after three years to meet the cost of bond payments from its own revenues, freeing an estimated $3.2 million of ASG pledged revenues for bond payments on ASTCA’s indebtedness,” the governor explained, adding that the FRP called for immediate settlement of the leadership and management issues currently existing within ASTCA.

“Moreover, it was imperative that assurance be given to show that this issue would be resolved promptly,” he said. “Based on these pressures, I was compelled to secure a commitment from Lewis Wolman to immediately spearhead the implementation of ASTCA Financial Recovery Plan for one year.”

The governor informs Fai’ivae that the “success of ASTCA is our collective priority because of its impact on the territory’s efforts to diversify its economy given the uncertainties threatening the tuna industry let alone the loss of our substantial investments.”

“I do appreciate your support and that of the board as we struggle to acquire funds to fully finance its operation so it can achieve our joined vision,” said the governor.

Copies of the governor’s letter were also sent to all ASTCA board members.

The governor’s letter didn’t elaborate further on the leadership and management issues, but ASTCA has been without a chief executive officer for a few months, although the board had appointed chief financial officer, Falaovaoto Sualevai, as the Acting CEO.

The CEO post had been advertised and the deadline for application submission was 4p.m. Nov. 14; and Samoa News understands the ASTCA board was reviewing the applications submitted for the post as of last week.

Samoa News reached out to Wolman via email about his contract and he replied that his “motivation for taking the job was a mix of wanting to return home and wanting to ‘give back’ by helping supercharge telecommunications in the territory.”

“Great telecom strides have been made in the past by both ASTCA and Bluesky,” he said, “but American Samoa needs even more advanced telecommunications due to its remote location. Thanks to Hawaiki and BLAST (both put into place by earlier ASTCA leadership), ASTCA is now well-positioned to provide mainland-quality telecom, at affordable prices.”

Wolman has a long history as a resident and business owner in the Territory, dating back to 1980 when he first came to work at the Economic Development and Planning Office, now known as the Department of Commerce.

After his ASG contract, he began working in the private sector at Samoa News and eventually purchased the newspaper from Fuga Tolani Teleso. He stayed at Samoa News until its sale to the Annesley Family — Osini Faleatasi, Inc. in 2001.

From 2004-2005, he was a large shareholder in Bluesky while serving as co-CEO alongside co-CEO Fay Alailima-Rose. When his parents fell ill, Wolman sold his Bluesky shares and went back to the mainland to care for his elderly parents.

He returned in 2012, and tried to help get Community Bank going before rejoining Bluesky as American Samoa Country Manager, 2014- 2015. For the past three years, he has been living in Hawai’i.

He was President of Chamber of Commerce in 1989 and 2014.

He’s married to Eletise Matagi and has 4 children, and 10 grandkids.

Wolman is sometimes seen on KVZK when old tapes are shown of the Amerika Samoa Choir under Pulefaasisina Palauni Tuiasosopo. Wolman was part of the choir in the 1980s when it represented the territory at Pacific Arts Festivals in Cook Islands, Tahiti and Townsville, Australia.