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Gov. Lolo says American Samoa needs a voice in regional matters

Pacific Islands Forum membership an avenue

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga says American Samoa has an invitation to become a member of the Pacific Islands Forum assembly and the Attorney General has been directed to prepare a briefing for submission to the US State Department on the importance that American Samoa maintain a close relationship with its Pacific Island neighbors.

Lolo’s comments were made at last week’s cabinet meeting at the Agriculture Department conference room, where Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga gave a briefing to cabinet directors after attending the Pacific Island Forum of Leaders meeting early this month in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia.

Lemanu said he attended the last two days of the meeting and some of the issues discussed included fishery, climate changes, which is a very big issue global issue, communicable disease prevention and human rights pertaining to Papua New Guinea.

He explained that American Samoa’s status at the meeting is as an “observer” similar to the other US Pacific territories, like Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, since the insular areas come under the jurisdiction of the United States.

However, Lemanu said American Samoa is hopeful for a full membership because of the many issues dealing with the Pacific islands. If American Samoa gets full membership on the Forum, Lemanu said that does not take away “our direct relationship with the US when it comes to international matters.”

At the Pohnpei meeting two Pacific islands were accepted into Forum membership status — French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

Lemanu pointed out that American Samoa attending these regional meetings, gives the territory a chance to meet with other Pacific island leaders to discuss similar issues of importance to each other. For example, American Samoa attended the recent Polynesia Leaders Group held in French Polynesian and had a chance to meet with leaders there as well as officials of Air Tahiti Nui, as American Samoa is seeking another air carrier to serve Pago Pago.

At the meeting in Pohnpei, Lemanu said the message from French Polynesia leaders is that they are prepared to carry out discussions with American Samoa. And now, the governor will decide as to when the meeting and discussions will be held and who will participate in it.

The governor told the cabinet that Lemanu attending the Pacific Island Forum meeting is very important for American Samoa — helping to strengthen its relationship with other Pacific islands countries. Additionally, it’s also important that American Samoa continues to safeguard its relationship with the United States.

He said American Samoa has an invitation to be a member of the Forum and that the attorney general has been directed to prepare a submission to the US State Department so that the federal government understands the reason for American Samoa seeking membership status on the Forum.

According to the governor it’s important that American Samoa continues with a closer working relationship with Pacific Islands, but to always remember that the lifeline of Tutuila and Manu’a is in the hands of the US federal government.

“So we need to guarantee” that the US government understands what American Samoa is trying to accomplish with its Pacific neighbors, he said, and stressed that it’s important American Samoa clarifies its position to the US government regarding the need to have a voice in regional issues.