News Roundup 2011 — good, bad & hot topics
American Samoa in the year 2011 was faced with an economic downturn as the cost of living went up, while the government projected a $7 million shortfall at the start of the year. It was also a year full of excitement, changes and overall many news reports despite being a small island.
In 2011, the federal government continued to probe into a wide range of issues with federal charges filed in federal court.
Kicking off the year in January was Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s state of the territory address at a joint session of the Fono announcing the expected $7 million shortfall for FY 2011. To help with the financial crisis, a reduction in working hours and new tax measures were sent to the Fono for consideration.
In the end the Fono passed only one tax bill while more than 2,000 workers of the Executive Branch were affected in the reduction of hours that went into effect in February but was lifted about four months later.
Later in January the territory saw Cyclone Wilma coming close to Tutuila causing minor damage, with no loss of life. American Samoa got a scare two months later in March with a Pacific wide tsunami warning following the devastating earthquake in Japan. Our home island was once again spared.
Also in late January the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)’ Office of Inspector General issued an audit report, where it found “serious problems in many aspects” with respect to grants awarded to the American Samoa Special Services Commission (ASSSC) and cited numerous problems and questionable costs charged to grants provided to ASSSC through the AmeriCorps program.
By mid November this year, ASSSC’s former executive director Mine Sunia Pase, 62, pled guilty at federal court in Washington D.C. to conspiracy to steal more than $325,000 of AmeriCorps grant funds.
Also regarding federal court, it was in March that Simeti Lualemana, 67, was convicted by a jury at the federal court in Honolulu for the 2010 assault of former NOAA chief Mark Cunningham, who lost part of his left ear during the assault with a machete on disputed land in Tula. Lualemana was sentenced in July to five years imprisonment and his attorney has filed a notice of plan to appeal.
Another federal case concerned the arrest here of Kaisa and Louis Tai, who were taken to Honolulu in late May where they face drug charges. Their older brother John Tai was two months later arrested in California in the same drug case and extradited to Hawai’i.
The year 2011 saw some earthquake and tsunami related issues finally addressed. In February was the installation of the first six outdoor siren warning systems in the Pago Bay Area. and by Sept. 29, 2011, the majority of the sirens territory-wide were installed and the system was officially commissioned.
Also in February, the plastic bag ban in American Samoa went into effect and this move gave American Samoa a lot of positive attention in the U.S. where some cities have faced setbacks in trying to ban plastic bags.
Just days before the second year anniversary of the 2009 tsunami that claimed 34 lives in the territory, the Federal Emergency Management Agency permanent housing pilot program, which built 31 homes for residents who lost their homes during the worst disaster in American Samoa’s history, was completed.
A legal battle from 2010 over ASG efforts to retake the Ronald Reagan Marine Railways shipyard, which ended up in the federal bankruptcy court in south Florida, spilled over into 2011 where it was finally resolved in the summer with the governor establishing the ASG Shipyard Services Authority to oversee this facility that has since acheived several milestones in development heading into the new year.
The year saw a move by one local company, Bluesky Communication, to expand operations to Samoa by acquiring the telecommunication firm SamoaTel. Additionally, Bluesky expanded telecommunication services and its Moana TV channels for the territory. Also last year, two local businessmen moved to set up a call center in Samoa.
In 2011, the Oceania Football Conference, for the first time, held its meeting in the territory in mid January, where the president of the Papua New Guinea Football Federation, David Chung, was elected to head the Oceania membership. It was also the first time that the president of the FIFA, Joseph S. Blatter traveled here to take part in the meeting, as well as participating in other local activities.
But no one knew at the time what was going to happen several months later when in late November, the American Samoa National Men’s Football/ Soccer Team became the focus of international media by winning its first international match in Apia, Samoa at the 2014 FIFA World Cup-Oceania qualifying matches, a victory 17 years in the making, with a ‘Worst Team in the World’ acknowledgement. The team was also the focus of media, because of itsplayer Johnny Saelua, who made international news as he is believed to be the first transgender athlete to compete in a World Cup qualifying match.
Days later, OFC nominated the local team for the Annual FIFA Fairplay Award, which recognizes good or sporting behavior or other actions by people or bodies involved in association football around the world.
Two major issues prompted many complaints near the end of 2011 — first it was ASPA’s new rate hike on water, waste water and solid waste collection and the second was the LBJ Medical Center’s proposed move to drastically increase facility fees, which has since been delayed to later this month.
Another issue that attracted many public critics at year’s end is the proposed rule by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to expand the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary to include Larsen Bay, waters around Swains Island and Muliava, also known as Rose Atoll, and some of the waters around Aunuu and Tau islands. The plan also calls to change the name of the sanctuary to the American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary.
Other history making events of 2011 must include the first graduates of the American Samoa Culinary Academy, and StarKist Co. board of directors holding their annual meeting in the territory for the first time.
And, by this time next year — in 2013 — American Samoa will gather to swear into office its new Governor and Lt. Governor following the 2012 November General Election. Also to be sworn in at this time next year, are members of both the Senate and House.
(Gov. Togiola Tulafono is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive four-year term.)