Gov says feds are confused on how to handle issues for Am Samoa

reporters@samoanews.com

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga says now is the time to vigorously address the issue of the territory's political status and our political relationship with the United States, "because the federal government is itself confused on how to handle issues" pertaining to American Samoa, as "we are in a very unique position, different from all the other territories of the United States."

Lolo's comments were part of his State of the Territory Address delivered during the opening of the 3rd session of the 35th Legislature earlier this week at the Fale Laumei in Utulei.

"I look to you for support on this issue because you will have to take the lead in determining the type of political status and relationship with the United States the people of American Samoa want fashioned," Lolo said.

"Last year we made bold steps to assert our authority over our ocean resources and to reclaim our sovereignty, and we challenged and invalidated the decision by NOAA and the Fisheries Council to reduce our 50-mile Large Vessel Protected Area (LVPA) to 12 miles," Lolo pointed out. "While the court decision is under appeal, the Hawaii Federal Court recognized the legitimacy of our Deeds of Cessions."

Highlights from the Governor’s State of the Territory Address are:

MONIES COLLECTED FROM FINES

Lolo said questions have been raised about the fairness of the current practice by the US Justice Department to use monies received by the federal government on fines levied against vessels and facilities that violate environmental laws incurred in American Samoa, and not sharing the proceeds with the us, the victims.

He said the Attorney General and a local legal team composed of staff from the AG's Office and the governor's legal counsels "successfully compelled" the US Justice Department to share with us the $6.5 million fine that was recently levied against StarKist. Through this effort, said Lolo, American Samoa is entitled to half of the money.

EDUCATION

According to the governor, significant investments have been made in building the support infrastructure to improve the learning environment in all schools, including incentivizing teachers.

He said investments have also been made in promoting the physical well being of the young ones, evident in the construction of gymnasiums in major elementary schools.

And because not all local high school graduates will get the chance to access off island postsecondary education, Lolo said investing in the American Samoa Community College has become necessary; but added that like the LBJ Medical Center, "its financial stability requires close attention."

INFRASTRUCTURE

The governor reported that efforts to upgrade and expand the economic and social infrastructural system have been maintained. He referred to the completed inter island service wharf and said work is still in progress to improve harbor and dock areas in both Tutuila and Manu'a.

Ongoing improvement projects at the airport include the new jet fuel tank farm, the apron project, runway resurfacing, and other work funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Lolo made known that he has established the CIP Task Force "to compile all our CIP needs going forward to be submitted for consideration under President Trump's proposed infrastructural development initiative."

YOUNG ADULTS

According to Lolo, the development of young adults is an important priority because of its impact on the social and economic progress of the territory.

He said they have established programs to improve employability of young adults with no jobs, and they are working aggressively to establish new businesses with the aim of creating jobs for young people.

"Recognizing the absolute need to build the intellectual capacity of our human resource pool, to incentivize the attraction of high paying jobs into the territory, and to reverse the alarming trend of our college graduates not retuning home, the Management Apprenticeship Program was established towards the end of 2013, guaranteeing a full time position within the government and private sector for any college graduate who returns home," Lolo said.

At the end of 2017, he continued, close to 300 college graduates have returned home and are working for ASG and the private sector, earning a starting annual salary of $23,000.

Lolo said the challenges that lie ahead in 2018 are "monumental" and will demand the reaffirmation of our commitment to grow our economy and improve the lives of our people.

"After 5 years, I am convinced that the surefire pathway to accomplish our vision and inspirations, particular to sustaining the process of improving our people's quality of life, is through empowering our young people by instilling the required skill sets to attract minimum wage immune jobs and to ingrain, implant, and inoculate the core values that will perpetuate our identity and continue to align all their actions and to set their moral and ethical campus in line with our Christian values," Lolo said.

He concluded by saying that with the multitude of challenges that will punctuate 2018, "it is imperative that we recommit ourselves to the principle of full cooperation and collaboration; refraining and abstaining from second guessing or questioning our individual motives rather than focusing on benefits that our people will realize from any action that we take … God has been good to American Samoa but we must do our share to harvest the blessings God has in store for us."

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