Lolo: ASG takes directions only from DOI— and no other agencies
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga is adamant that the American Samoa Government only takes directions from the US Department of Interior, and no other federal agency, such as the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
And the only reason he responded recently to concerns raised by FEMA Region IX Administrator, Robert J. Fenton, over the construction of the new Fono building was “out of respect” with the relationship between ASG and this federal agency.
Lolo made the statement during his cabinet meeting last week Thursday morning, and the meeting was taped and aired last Saturday morning on state-run KVZK-TV.
In his Aug. 20 letter, Fenton raised with the governor concerns over the new Fono building, which he says does not comply with federal regulations. Failure to comply with federal regulations, Fenton wrote, means a loss of federal funding in the millions of dollars from FEMA, if another disaster happens in American Samoa. It also means a loss of federal monies from other federal agencies. (See Samoa News Oct. 2 edition for details.)
The governor responded in a Sept. 28 letter, saying that ASG takes the issues raised “very seriously and have suspended construction.” Lolo made no mention in the letter that ASG only takes directions from DOI and not other federal agencies. (See Samoa News Oct. 9 story on Lolo’s letter.)
During the cabinet meeting, Lolo said the new Fono building project is on the meeting agenda so that it’s clear to cabinet members the status of this project. He then pointed out that it’s the administration’s belief, that when it comes to operation of the local government, ASG comes under the direction and jurisdiction of DOI and no other federal agency.
According to the governor, he communicated with Fono leaders last Wednesday for planning on continuing with the project, where phase I is already completed, and ASG is prepared to issue the Notice to Proceed probably this week for Phase II.
Lolo made clear to his cabinet members that there is no plan to halt this project from moving forward as the Administration awaits a response from DOI, which gives the “compass” (‘tapasa’) that American Samoa follows.
Additionally, DOI has the administering authority over American Samoa as dictated by the US Congress and the US President.
At least three times during his remarks, the governor stressed and was adamant that operations of the territorial government are not dictated by any other federal agency, such as FEMA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US State Department.
Lolo appears to interpret FEMA’s position regarding construction of the new Fono building, to not only pertain to building standards in the territory but also the autonomy of American Samoa as a territory.
He says federal agencies cannot push American Samoa to do what they want, adding that it’s the job of those federal agencies “to protect what we are doing, and that’s clearly outlined in our Deeds of Cession” with the United States.
Lolo called on his cabinet not to give up on doing the right thing, which will lead to the betterment of the government and the people of American Samoa.
Samoa News should point out that the FEMA administrator in his letter says that the Fono Building construction is in violation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) requirements and failure to comply with the requirements “may lead to suspension” from the federal insurance program.
This means that American Samoa, under the Flood Disaster Protection Act, would — if suspended — not be able to receive any Federal financial assistance for acquisition or construction in the Special Flood Hazard Area. The ban from such funding “includes all Federal agencies, not just FEMA,” Fenton writes.
He also includes the DOI as subject to this prohibition due to federal FDP Act.
Consequences of the suspension would apply in the next declared disaster, Fenton notes.