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Gov and Faoa agree: ASTCA should remain “as is” but they have different reasons

Tuika says get rid of its semi-autonomous status to lower its costs

Whether or not to privatize the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority (ASTCA) has been discussed over the years since the Tauese Administration and there were even recommendations in past years from the private sector and some lawmakers about the government owned entity.

And the question has surfaced again and this time during the recent American Samoa Bar Association gubernatorial forum at the Gov. Rex Lee Auditorium where candidates for governor were asked, “In what way would you seek to make American Samoa Telecommunications Authority more competitive? Do you believe that ASTCA could be run better by the private sector?”

Candidate for governor, Faoa Aitofele Sunia responded, “Communication is a very vital element in our community. We have to be careful with it. It’s one thing to say, privatize it and it’s another to figure out a way to have another communication [entity], if the private sector took over, [and] failed.”

“So we have to be very careful on how to deal with the notion of privatizing what we have right now especially those things like ASTCA,” he said and noted that he’s not sure what the question meant by the phrase ‘more competitive’. “But I believe ASTCA right now is providing part of the communication service and Bluesky is handling the other faction of communication needs.”

However, “if we need to make any changes with ASTCA, we need to make sure that we have qualified people there to run the communication system,” Faoa said, who is a former ASTCA board member. “And I think [ASTCA] has a good board right now, if they can be strengthened and make sure they come up with policies so that the operation of ASTCA will be as we want it to be.”

The incumbent, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga responded, “Definitely yes, if it’s run as a business it would be better in the private sector because the business approach would be to make money. So there is no question it will be run better.”

“But if ASTCA is to provide services to our community, then it’s a different story all together. I always have this belief that any business should be out in the private sector,” he said.

However, “there are services that we really need to be careful [with],” he said and noted, “the idea of a monopolizing service is one thing that this island cannot afford. That’s why we have to be real careful.”

He went on to point out that if the American Samoa Power Authority was designed to be a business, “by now, it would be up to 50 cents a kilowatt per hour. But because it is designed to provide service to our people, now it’s down to 23 cent, [or] 24 cents a kilowatt hour.”

He continued, “If you look at it from a business perspective, it’s better at the private sector,” he said. “But to provide service to our people, I think it is okay the way it is right now. We’re taking serious thoughts about it, we talked to the board to make sure that they recommend how we go forward with the future of ASTCA.”

“This government is to make sure we provide the service to our people,” Lolo said, but wasn’t able to elaborate further because his time was up. (Each candidate was allotted three-minutes to respond to each question.)

Candidate for governor Tuika Tuika said ASTCA is one of the ASG semi autonomous agencies that he plans to have the executive order, which created it, be voided and remove the board of directors.

He said the way ASTCA is running, the telephone rates have increased so that ASTCA can pay government loans from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund and that’s “not fair”. (Samoa News notes that the two ASG loans with the Fund have recently been paid off with proceeds from ASEDA bonds.)

“I believe, if we remove ASTCA from being an authority it will reduce costs and we can hire a qualified person to run it and reduce its prices,” Tuika said.

Samoa News points out that ASTCA was established by executive order since late 1996 and it remains that way today, despite two separate efforts by the Fono in the past 10 years to have it established by law.