On the Campaign Trail 2012
Attract new industries, reform immigration policies, create an economic development office, privatize certain ASG functions, streamline business licensing and build the visitor’s industry are some of the key economic development issues the gubernatorial team of “Save and Sandra” shared with the Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago.
Candidate for governor Save Liuato Tuitele and his running mate, candidate for lieutenant governor, Tofoitaufa Sandra King Young are the second gubernatorial team to outline their economic platform at the Chamber meeting. (See July 28th edition of Samoa News on part one of the team’s economic platform)
Included in the CoC forum is a Question & Answer session, which opens the floor to the audience to ask candidates specific questions.
One of the questions from Chamber members dealt with the team’s plan to streamline government operations, seeking to eliminate or merge redundancies in services and programs.
A Chamber member said this means a loss of jobs for local workers in ASG, to which Tofoitaufa replied their goal is to “empower the private sector” by building new jobs and transitioning those from government jobs into the private sector.
Another question from the Chamber is how the team, if elected, will increase the value of government services to the public, to which Save replied, “put the right people in the right jobs”. Tofoitaufa added that increasing the value of service to the public “starts from the top — holding leaders accountable” for their actions and decision making.
And when asked if the team will seek to hire qualified people from other campaign teams, if elected to office, both Save and Tofoitaufa said, “yes”.
“One of the hallmarks of our administration is — it’s not your age, it’s not who you know, it’s what you know. And every single job that we put out there, in the director’s level, it’s going to be competitive,” she said. “Because we cannot afford to continue to hire people who don’t know how to put together reports, who don’t know federal requirements.”
“It’s time for us to do the right thing. Be transparent, and hire the best people,” the candidate said. “It’s about what you know and it should be about what you know.”
Prior to the Q&A session, the team spoke about their overall economic plans for the territory if elected.
ECONOMIC PLANNING OFFICE
If elected, the team plans to establish an Economic Planning Office to be staffed with qualified data analysts, statisticians and economists. Additionally, to develop a long-term economic development plan — to commit to that plan and implement it.
The team says this is something that “we can work on together with the Chamber and the private sector.”
The team wants to streamline the business license process by having a “one-stop business center”, mandate a 10-day turnaround on new business license applications and two to three days for renewal.
Additionally, they would reduce business license fees, streamline multiple business requirements and make it easy for businesses to apply by using online application capability — which is something already in use in the States.
Save said the team believes the “government has too many functions” and certain agencies... need to be privatized”.
For example, tax collection where there is a serious problem — he said if this government function is “awarded to a private company or somebody that can do that job... it’s easier for the government to collect that money and they don’t have to pay that overhead,” he said.
Also recommended for privatization is the Futiga landfill and solid waste and fuel services — which are all operated and managed by the American Samoa Power Authority. Save recalled ASPA getting into the fuel business, which was supposed to create savings to be passed on to consumers, “but I haven’t seen that,” he noted.
He said the fuel importing business should be taken away from ASPA, who “need to get out of the fuel business. It costs more due to the overhead and I don’t think they’re making a profit,” he said.
Other entities the team recommended for privatization are dry dock services (the shipyard), the golf course, the school lunch program, and the Development Bank of American Samoa.
Save said. “By privatizing these activities, it will cut down on costs…”
Tofoitaufa said one of the things American Samoa should capitalize on for the tourism industry is the territory’s “natural beauty”.
According to the gubernatorial team, “We have to create demand for tourism in American Samoa,” and pointed out that the cable car, once a major attraction for the territory, needs rebuilding.
Another area for tourism development, the team noted is “transportation”— by attracting another airline connecting American Samoa to the U.S. and obtaining reliable transportation to and from the Manu’a island group.
Moreover, the territory must create niche visitor’s services in villages to cater to visitors; and American Samoa “really needs to train the local workforce” for this industry, Tofoitaufa said.
She said,“We want to increase the Visitor’s Bureau budget so they can do more.”
ATTRACT NEW INDUSTRIES
“One of the things that we have seen over the years is the failure of our government to attract new businesses to help diversify our economy [and] this is a big problem,” said Tofoitaufa, adding that she and Save “were so shocked and disappointed at the loss of the call center” industry that “would have provided hundreds of jobs for our local people”
She said there is a need to “diversify away” from just the manufacturing industry — which hires low skilled labor, like the canneries.
“We want to introduce new industries, like in information technology that the call center would have provided,” she said and if elected the Save and Sandra team is “committed to bringing [back] the call center.”
REFORM IMMIGRATION POLICIES
“A big issue that is also a barrier to developing the economy are the restrictive immigration policies,” said Tofoitaufa and cited her own personal experience with her husband, who is an electrical contractor — and the biggest problem he has faced in “hiring skilled employees”.
“We want to hire our local people. But when you come to compete and you have 50 applications... and people who qualify are not our own local people... If the workforce is not available from local residents, businesses will have to hire from off-island,” she said.
Another concern of the team, said Tofoitaufa, is the “sponsorship system” and if elected the team is very interested in reviewing it and “I think we would be committed to changing the sponsorship system. Quite frankly it’s corrupt. It’s absolutely corrupt,” she said.
She said this system should be “fair and transparent” through the use of a visa system, which is just an idea and the team is interested in hearing from the private sector with their feedback on this.
Save added the team is looking at the Immigration office to be a stand alone office, with someone to oversee it, “to make sure that it is a workable office” and not attached to the Attorney General’s Office.
The team would also streamline the permitting procedures for visitors, business people and skilled workers from off-island.