Port nominee breezes through House confirmation

Port director nominee Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele breezed through the Fono with a unanimous vote of 20-0 in the House yesterday morning and 15-0 in the Senate last week to take up the Port Administration’s top post.Taimalelagi appeared before the House Committee on Port Administration and Transportation chaired by Rep. Talaimatai Elisara Su’a on Wednesday; and while many issues were covered, such as the failure of the airport’s stand-by emergency generator to kick in last Thursday, the focus of many of the comments and questions were about her qualifications and lack of experience in the area of transportation, port authority and airport functions.Rep. Maugaoalii Leapai Tusipa Anoai advised Taimalelagi to lean and depend on her employees, as she has no expertise in things concerning the operations of the port and airport. The Fagatogo faipule noted that Taimalelagi’s resume features a long list of credentials in the field of education only, but none in the area of transportation.Rep. Atualevao Gafatasi Afalava referred to Taimalelagi’s resume and said all her qualifications are in the areas of teaching and education, and he wondered why she was appointed for the job. “In case I missed something, is there any reason in particular why you think the Governor appointed you for this job? I ask this because I feel for you,” Atualevao said.Taimalelagi explained that she spoke to Governor Lolo about the different jobs where she could be of use. She said they looked into several different departments but Port Administration was important to her because in 1993, she was on the Economic Development Advisory Board along with Lealaifuaneva Reid, Afoa Moega Lutu, Lyle Richmond, Hugo Gebauer, and a lawyer. She said it was they who laid out the plan for the Executive Office Building and when it was time to look for funding to carry out the work, there were two avenues they explored. One of them was the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) and the other was Port Administration’s wharfage fee.“At that time. the wharfage fee brought in a lot of money for the government,” she said.Taimalelagi said she reminded Lolo about this during their conversation. She said taking on the challenge of being director of Port Administration was not an easy thing on her mind as she understands that there are federal laws with regards to FAA, TSA, and the USCG that she needs to be familiar with. She said she can school herself on these policies and procedures by reading up of these laws and familiarizing herself with them.Taimalelagi said she asked the Governor about the status of the employees, based on the report submitted by the transition team. She said she wanted to know their strengths and weaknesses, so she can determine where she can be of use. She said her goal is to revive the fire rescue training program at the $16-million-dollar FAA funded center at the airport. According to her, the center was only used once. She said that this is an area where her education background can be of use, as she can consult with the nearby Nuuuli Vo-Tech High School and the ASCC about working together. She said upon reviewing the transition team’s report, she also learned that there are only three captains who are certified to operate tugboats. “There was a time when there were twelve captains,” she said, adding that there is no training program available for them. She said she found no problems with the workers but she knows there is a need to enhance their knowledge and skills on how to do their jobs.“That is an aspect that I understand,” Taimalelagi said.Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai spoke about the wharfage fee mentioned by Taimalelagi and said there is a section under Title 20 that has a repealer clause stating that after the bond for the EOB is paid off, the tax will be repealed, meaning the money will no longer be collected. Taotasi pointed out that the EOB bond was paid off in 2008 and there is a question, with respect to whether or not the fees are still being collected and if they are, where are they going? “Is it going to the general fund or the Port Authority account?” he asked. He said the fees raise an issue with appropriation and it should be looked into.Rep. Lemapu Talo said there are questions about Taimalelagi’s qualifications and while he does not question her management and leadership skills, there are technical issues involved in this line of work. He told Taimalelagi to revisit and revise a plan for the port and the airport, and make sure they are enforced and not just left alone.Taimalelagi concluded the hearing by saying that she has the same strength today as she did when she started teaching. She referred to her dad, the late Senator Tuana’itau Tuia and said, “My dad died serving the government and I have the same intention.”She said when she thinks back at her many years in the DOE, she is proud that she contributed to the betterment of the young people and while DOE and the Port Administration are two separate departments, both are the same, as far as people’s lives depending on them. She said she will learn what she can from the people who have been there for many years. Taimalelagi departed the hearing with a quote from her father: “Don’t starve, because when you do, you’ll end up stealing. Do the job. Don’t worry about the pay, just do the work.”

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