Gov. Lolo dismisses claim he is "anti-cannery"
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has dismissed criticism circulating in the community that he is “anti-canneries”, saying that only a governor who isn't right in the head — ‘e leaga le ulu’ — would be against the canneries, the lifeline of many families in American Samoa.
Lolo made the comment during last Friday’s news conference, where he said he's been informed that StarKist Samoa — whose production is set to resume today, following a five-week shutdown, is looking at utilizing freezer storage facility at Tri Marine International’s Samoa Tuna Processors (STP) Inc., plant in Atu’u.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Tri Marine chief operations officer Joe Hamby said “Tri Marine has been discussing the STP facilities with StarKist for some time.”
“Those discussions are bound by a confidentiality agreement and, unfortunately, we cannot share them with you,” Hamby told Samoa News over the weekend.
StarKist’s corporate spokesperson based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News request for comments, due to the long Thanksgiving holiday heading into the weekend.
Industry officials have told Samoa News that STP’s multi-million-dollar storage facility may be one of the best options for StarKist.
“It’s brand new and considered a state of the art facility,” said one official, adding that STP is a perfect solution for StarKist, since there's already an existing dock, where fish is off loaded directly into the freezer facility. “However, use of the facility as a permanent solution all depends on Tri Marine, whether or not it'll reopen its STP cannery operations.”
The storage facility was officially opened about two years ago; however the STP cannery shut down last December, laying off some 800 workers.
The governor addressed what some in the community have said over the past several months: that the Lolo Administration is not supportive of the cannery, after the governor decided early this year not to lease government land at the ASG shipyard facility in Satala to StarKist to build a freezer storage facility — which the cannery has been trying to do since the Togiola Administration.
Lolo claims that some people have said the “governor is anti-canneries” but that is not the case. According to the governor, the canneries is just one of the many sectors of the community that the government depends on. He said many times, when people don’t understand decisions made by the governor, they tend to think that is the “attitude” of the governor — going up against others.
Regarding land for the StarKist storage facility, Lolo said it was explained to StarKist officials — during the Las Vegas meeting — the reason “why we pulled out of the piece of ASG land that was planned for their use” — referring to the shipyard land.
“We cannot invest millions and millions of dollars to upgrade the shipyard and yet we’re giving away a parcel of land,” he said. Lolo gave a similar explanation during a cabinet meeting earlier this year.
For many years, StarKist has been trying to secure land for additional freezer storage facility space and just a few months ago, they were offered ASG land in Satala that was occupied by the old Satala power plant after the Lolo Administration denied the company’s request for space at the shipyard facility.
Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele, who is also the shipyard board chairman told Samoa News in August this year that StarKist is considering all options, including the old Satala power plant land.
“We're hopeful StarKist decides on the matter soon so the necessary work to increase its cold storage capacity gets underway, and resolving the supply of fish issue to a significant extent thus avoiding future intermittent closure of operations,” Lafaele said.
Early this month, Lolo along with some of his cabinet members and Congresswoman Aumua Amata met in Las Vegas, Nevada, with StarKist Inc. officials including the company’s president and CEO, Andrew Choe to discuss several issues including local and federal support for the cannery’s operations in the territory.
Responding to questions last Friday, Lolo said there were no changes shared by StarKist during the Las Vegas meeting regarding the temporary shutdown of the StarKist Samoa plant for five weeks.
The cannery’s production is set to resume today, along with American Samoa Talofa Systems Inc., which manufactures cans for StarKist. Both companies are owned by South Korean based Dongwon Industries.
Lolo said the importance of the meeting with StarKist officials is that both sides are now much clear on each others’ position. “We might have some differences on individual positions, but the bottom line is that the government” will not shy away from its continued support of he cannery, he explained.
And that’s why he invited Congresswoman Aumua, so StarKist understands that the “support of our government along with the Congresswoman remains firm,” said Lolo.