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Op-Ed: Tama Seugogo Part 4

The unlearned in American Samoa politics is inclined to characterize the interaction between the governor and Fono on the 2013 budget and other important matters as the blind leading the blind. To the veteran observer, it’s just the way the two leading entities of local government have developed over the years for a purpose or purposes, not necessarily or always in the public interest. 

Unless the governor presents an official report from the appropriate federal government agency documenting the current status of the tobacco loan settlement report, we will never know for sure what the $6.8 million is until it is paid to ASG at some future time (that not even the governor knows or so he said) or not paid at all.

Leveraging his strategic position with his proposal to elect the senate and funding the outstanding court approved settlements, the governor didn’t take long to nudge the senators to acknowledge that the governor was a better explainer than the two messengers who earlier confused the Fono with their contrasting testimonies, and thank the governor for making time to meet with them to sort out the confusion once and for all. Yet the governor’s explanation as reported by the media didn’t include anything more convincing than the memo (from the governor) that Malemo, the budget director, waved at the Fono budget committee during his dramatic budget testimony last month.

Nonetheless, the Fono now appears “properly” informed by the governor. The crescendo built up a couple of weeks ago was cut to size by a high level golf game among the governor and Fono leaders last Saturday, which buffered the potentially contentious and awkward Tuesday morning meeting. 

As intended by the leaders, the Tuesday morning meeting turned conciliatory in nature — to the point where the few brave Fono voices heroically heard only last week were silenced. 

In viewing the photo of the three leaders in the Samoa News this morning (10/3/12), in that chamber — that hallowed senate chamber — I would be intimidated too. But in my trembling voice, I would have managed to ask the governor what constitutes “new money” and how is it different than money that’s used to pay the loan; what the balance of the loan is; when exactly is the loan paid off; when can we expect the “new money” to be received; has negotiation to get the “new money” begun; who is negotiating on our behalf; will the negotiator get a piece of the pie, if so- how much; and if an official periodic report of the loan can be made available to the Fono. 

But the people’s voice in the Fono was quiet once more, when we needed it the most.

The road is now cleared for the budget architects to write up the supplemental or amended budget based on the governor’s wishes, which seems certain to be Fono- approved later this month along with his DBAS appointment. 

True to form, when their domain appears threatened, this fraternity of leaders come together to protect their interests. We can only hope that among these interests are some of those of the 99% of the population.

One Samoa News blogger decried emphatically the cut to the LBJ budget as such would impact the “health, safety, and welfare” of the people, with the negative impact felt most by the poor, as we all know. Equally significant is the cut to the scholarship program which is the vital link in the territory’s human resource pipeline and socio-economic development. 

Unfortunately, the governor appears more interested in the IT and the ASESRO budgets than the above two budgets that have the most impact on people’s lives. All the above however should be restored and funded if the $6.8 million is paid and sooner. If not, then health care and education will be sacrificed for IT and ASESRO. 

Earlier this week, the Samoa News published a “letter to the editor” by an American Samoa student at Chaminade University in Hawaii, passionately lamenting the false hope that our leaders permeate their young lives with while growing up in the territory — that they are the future of American Samoa. Only to return and find it to be like climbing mountains to secure a job in their field of study, let alone a job.

The late and former president of the senate Mariota Tuiasosopo, popularly known as the father of the Fono as it exists today, would be turning in his grave if he knew the “lupe o le foaga” (pigeons of the nest) that he had predicted would return one day to lead and serve American Samoa in the future, are being made to fly out into the ‘vanimonimo’ to seek job opportunities and a country to serve.

In thirty days, the territory will feel the pain of the ASPA rates that went up this week. As is always the case, the low income families will be hurt the most; and many will find it necessary to go without electricity or cut down on other necessities of life. This is something the governor should have addressed in the Tuesday morning meeting but he didn’t, and the Fono didn’t ask.

And, come Thursday this week and Monday next week (flight nights), many of our government leaders will depart for overseas for their much needed rest after these arduous budget hearings. And we are left behind to pay the price.

How much longer can we the people tolerate this abuse, this indifference to the plight of the poor, such arrogance?

The end of this chapter doesn’t come soon enough; but let us pray the next administration and Fono will be a beacon of hope for the territory — that a new chapter is turned where life’s blessings are meaningfully extended to the less fortunate.

God bless the poor families and the children of American Samoa.