Gov: ASTCA now fully owns American Samoa branching unit of Hawaiki cable
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga updated lawmakers — in his oral presentation of the State of the Territory Address in Samoan — on Hawaiki cable and thanked the ASG Employees' Retirement Fund board for their assistance and investment in securing it.
Lolo says the government now has full ownership of the American Samoa branching unit of Hawaiki cable, while also saying that $8.1 million is left to be paid to the Retirement Fund.
Samoa News should point out that the outstanding amount to the Retirement Fund of $8.1 million is only mentioned in Lolo's Samoan oral presentation, and not in his official written address, which is in English.
In his official written address, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga notes that the investment in Hawaiki cable “reflects our unyielding determination to unshackle ourselves from the clutches of our long-running sole dependence on the canneries and the government.”
However, he points out that legal prohibitions prevented additional investment by the Retirement Fund to fully cover the total cost of the Hawaiki cable and thus, set in motion the only available option of going to the Bond Market to secure required funds to pay the remaining $15 million liability.
Through the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the government issued the 2018 bond series and of the $50 million in proceeds from the bond sale, $32 million went to Hawaiki cable.
Lolo explained that the decision to incur additional debt was “not made lightly given the long-term financial burden that will be assumed by our children; but the dye has been cast, reflected in the disbursements already executed by the Retirement Fund to ASTCA for Hawaiki cable and product services development in the form of a loan and investments.”
The governor continued, “Our efforts to defray the cost of our remaining liability to Hawaiki cable have been successful, culminating with the disbursement of $15 million to Hawaiki, giving us full ownership of the American Samoa Hawaiki Cable Branch.”
According to Lolo, there are “outstanding issues” between ASTCA and the Retirement Fund, which will require submission of legislation for a Fono review and decision. He didn’t elaborate.
O3B SATELLITE NETWORK
The American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority (ASTCA) has also settled a more than $3 million outstanding debt with O3B satellite networks, according to the governor's oral presentation, delivered in Samoan to Monday’s joint session of the Fono.
(Samoa News notes this info is not in the official written version of the Address, which is in English)
The governor spoke (in Samoan) about several issues including telecommunications, which he says the government is working to further improve through ASTCA and Hawaiki cable.
He noted that ASTCA has outstanding debts from previous years and the government has been working on resolving them. One of those debts is to the O3B Networks for which the government had signed a 25-year contract paying between $190,000 and $200,000 a month.
He said this is a large amount of money and therefore, the administration, along with ASTCA leadership, decided to find a solution to address the issue.
According to the governor, negotiations are complete with O3B which has agreed to “settle” the debt, with the government paying $3.2 million in outstanding debts from past years.
This means, starting October this year, ASTCA will pay $50,000 a month to O3B — every month — over the next five years, something the governor is calling ‘big savings’.
As previously reported by Samoa News, ASTCA’s fiscal year 2019 budget includes $3.1 million in additional obligations to the O3B satellite contract, that is still active. ASTCA and O3B Networks announced in January 2013 the signing of agreements for O3B to provide broadband connectivities for internet and other services for American Samoa starting that year.
Improvement to telecommunications, through Hawaiki cable, is a push by the Lolo Administration to create a third economic pillar of the territory, which has depended for many years on the government and the canneries.
Lolo noted with concern, the continued challenges faced by the canneries, such as federal regulations, and after the closure of two canneries — COS Samoa Packing and Samoa Tuna Processors — that leaves only StarKist Samoa.
“Years of unsuccessful attempts to diversify our economy brought clarity to the basic fact that we must find our own economic diversification pathway by finding other sources of investment capital to advance realistic economic development options which are not affected by existing impractical federal policies,” he said. “It is also transparent that federal funds will not be available to finance our economic diversification endeavors. “
“Accordingly, our investment in Hawaiki cable reflects our efforts to create a third economic pillar to reduce our economic volatility and susceptibility to changes negatively affecting the financial wherewithal of StarKist and the erratic fluctuations in government revenues,” Lolo added.
“We are optimistic that this investment will yield substantial economic and financial benefits through job creation and export earnings,” he continued. “Moreover, this investment will gravitate to improving the quality of life of our people through better healthcare and educational services.”
While the government will continue to push for economic development diversification, Lolo points out that “we are acutely mindful and sensitive to ensuring that locally owned businesses are given all the assistance possible to support business growth and viability.”
He said it’s “critical that our private sector is nurtured and developed to realize our ultimate vision of reducing the public sector in favor of the private sector.”
He explained that the government will work collaboratively with the private sector to explore investments lured by federal incentivized programs such as the Opportunity Zones and the New Market Tax Credits. Moreover, ASG will concurrently seek investments using the above federal stimulant programs to expand the economic and social infrastructural systems.
The governor promised that ASG “will change our approach in the way we deal with the private sector through good faith collaboration on the elimination of operating obstacles which has caused frustrations particularly responding speedily and efficiently instead of taking months and sometimes years to settle business requests."
He further promised that ASG “will do a better job and we will be more conscientious and diligent in making sure that private sector invoices are paid promptly, provided that the procurement laws, rules, and regulations were fully satisfied from which emanated the submitted invoice for payment. “
With the local unemployment rate “steadily rising”, the governor said, “we cannot afford to accept status quo, nor can we continue to depend on limited annual CIP allocations to move our economic agenda forward; hence, it behooves us to secure other sources of capital through the bond market and other private investments. “
Samoa News will report in later editions on more issues from the governor’s address.