Gov. Lolo calls for follow up mechanism for territorial requests to DOI
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is hopeful that the US Interior Department’s Office of Insular and International Affairs as well as the White House would establish a “group or a unit” to follow up on requests presented by the US territories during the annual Interagency Group on Insular Affairs (IGIA) plenary session.
Such a move will “give us a sense that this platform is to be the springboard for positive outcomes relative to the elimination of economic development barriers … of the protectorates of the United States,” said Lolo in a prepared statement submitted for the IGIA meeting held Feb. 25 in Washington D.C.
Lolo wasn’t able to attend, not only the IGIA meeting, but also the National Governors Association Winter conference as well as the US Senate Committee hearing on Feb. 26 due to “health issues” that remain unexplained.
At the outset of the governor’s statement, he first congratulated David Bernhardt for his appointment by the President to the Interior Secretary post, which is subject to confirmation by the US Senate.
Lolo gave an update on the territory’s economy, which continues to be dependent on the two major pillars, the government and the StarKist Samoa cannery, which faces major challenges while two previous canneries — COS Samoa Packing and Samoa Tuna Processors Inc. — have long since ceased operations here.
The governor points out that while the US posted record numbers in economic growth and prosperity; with its unemployment rate at a record low of 4%, and its soaring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), American Samoa’s unemployment rate is at 12.4% with its plummeting GDP of a negative 5.3% at the close of 2017.
American Samoa is moving toward creating a third economic pillar, he said, and thanked DOI/OIA for supporting a capital funding request to supplement locally generated funds “to forge the establishment of our third economic pillar, manifested in our investment in the Hawaiki Cable, which accords the opportunity for American Samoa to be the telecommunication hub in the South Pacific.”
“This investment also creates positive and favorable impacts on improving the quality of healthcare and educational service systems; let alone the creation of a favorable business climate fostering the attraction of foreign investment to bolster American Samoa’s economic diversification prospects,” he said.
The governor also notes that the “debilitating impact of the ‘cabotage’ federal policy” have made it difficult for American Samoa in past years to develop a tourism industry as a third economic pillar.
“Incentivizing investments in building the requisite tourism infrastructure is negated and nullified by the unfavorable and adverse air transportation environment,” he said.
Other issues cited in the governor’s prepared statement to IGIA are similar to those he shared in his statement to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that convened a hearing on Feb. 26 on the state of US insular areas. (See Samoa News editions on Feb. 28 and Mar. 1 for details of Lolo’s wish-list to the US Senate committee.)
To the IGIA, Lolo reiterated and reaffirmed “our deep sense of gratitude” to President Donald Trump and his administration “for the efforts to move our collective agenda forward particular to growing our economies and improving the lives of Americans living” in the US territories.
The governor also recognized former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “for hearing our pleas to reduce the scope of the Ocean Monuments to avail more fishing grounds to the U.S. Fishing Fleet in order to support our U.S. based canneries like StarKist.”