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Senator calls for public awareness campaigns regarding veto override on ballot

Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono has called on the Fono leadership to look at planning public awareness programs to educate the community about giving the Fono the authority to override the governor’s veto, which is an issue that will be on the November 2014 general election ballot.


The Senate approved the measure last month followed by an endorsement from the House. The Constitution requires a record of the vote and the measure to be sent to the governor who will then present the measure to the Election Office to be put to voters in the next general election.


At last Friday’s Senate session, Soliai says that the Fono will soon go into its long recess and won’t return until July for the 4th regular session, and the priority at that time will be the new fiscal year 2015 budget.


(The current session ends today followed by a special session, which is not to exceed five calendar days, beginning tomorrow, Apr. 1).


Soliai said the long break before the July session would give the Senate ample time to fully explain to the community, especially voters, the importance of this veto override referendum.


He recalled during the 2008 general election when he was chief election officer and this identical issue was  given to voters to decide upon.  At the time, the current governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga, was Senate President.


Soliai says he approached Lolo several times asking for the Senate and the Fono to conduct full public awareness campaigns on this important matter for the future political development of American Samoa, but not much public education was done at the time.


He believes that once or twice, there was a program on KVZK-TV about the veto override, and this was done just before the election. In the end, he said, the measure was defeated by voters.


Soliai said he truly believes the measure was defeated in 2008 because a lot of people just didn’t understand what the veto override is, and its benefit to the future of the territory when it comes to the Fono.


He also said that ballot boxes came back with many blank ballots — not marked — for the referendum issue, and this was a clear sign that voters just didn’t understand the whole issue. Soliai suggested that when Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie returns from Honolulu, the Senate leadership work on a plan to carry out public education on the measure, to ensure that everyone has a full understanding.


There was support from other senators for holding public awareness that will fully explain in detail the importance of this proposed change to the Constitution.


Soliai told Samoa News in 2008 that the Election Office cannot, under the law of the land, conduct public awareness for any issue placed on the ballot because the Election Office is charged with conducting fair elections and must be independent of all issues relating to the election.


At present, the Constitution provides that no later than 14 days after the governor has vetoed a bill, it may be passed over his veto by a two-thirds majority of the entire membership of each Fono chamber. A bill so re-passed is re-presented to the governor for his approval. If the Governor does not approve it within 15 days, he must send it — together with his comments — to the Secretary of Interior.


However, the Fono approved amendment states that that a bill so re-passed shall “become law 60 days after the adjournment of the session in which it was passed”. It would also delete the rest of the current provision requiring the Interior Secretary’s approval.