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Time to revisit territory's political status says Governor

The Togiola Administration is currently planning a public meeting, or meetings, to include government, traditional and church leaders as well as individual residents so that the public at large can continue discussions regarding the territory’s political status.

In his Flag Day address in April this year, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said it’s time for American Samoa to revisit its political status with the United States and called on residents to seek appropriate changes in order to be truly self-governing, with self-determination.

Speaking on his weekend radio program, the governor said it’s the responsibility of every generation to do something for the next generation. And the question that he has raised publicly several times, including during his Flag Day address is, “what is our generation going to do for our future generations?”

“So what is our generation going to do? Are we just going to sit back and depend on the decision by our forefathers that has led us in the last 112 years, but nothing else for future generations?” he asked.

“Our generation has done nothing for the next generation” said Togiola. He said he hopes that the current generation is strong and brave enough to come together to discuss the future for the next generation of American Samoans.

 While attending a recent meeting in Washington D.C. the governor met with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who recommended a meeting between the Fono and leaders of the territory to discuss the territory’s political status, which is currently an “unorganized and unincorporated” territory.

(See Faleomavaega’s Op-Ed in Friday, May 25 Samoa News or read it online in the Opinion section.)

As the Fono prepares to convene its 4th regular session in July, the governor says the administration is planning to call a community meeting at large to allow anyone, including government, traditional and church leaders to voice their views on this very important issue for American Samoa.

He said currently the question is whether to conduct one community meeting at a set location or hold meetings at district levels, which will provide a full explanation of the current political status, but also give the chance for people to discuss the future of the territory. He said an official announcement will be made once there is consensus between local leaders.

Togiola said the goal is for American Samoa to continue discussion on this issue, saying that there is a lot of misinformation circulating in the community regarding the vote in the 2010 general election and the future political status of the territory. He says it’s best to continue discussions now, to find what type of political future people want for generations to come.

(Several amendments to the Constitution approved during the 2010 Constitutional Convention were placed on a referendum in the 2010 general election, asking just one question: whether the voter agreed or disagreed with the amendments collectively. Voters did not approve the proposed amendments saying in comments made after the vote that the items should have been voted on individually.)

The governor also says other misinformation has surfaced in recent days, which he called “lies” being spread by someone who is telling elderly members of the community that they will lose their social security benefits and Medicare, and that the federal government will not pay these benefits if American Samoa changes its current political status.

He explained that there are many individuals who have earned their social security benefits, others who have retired from the U.S. Armed Forces and are living in neighboring Samoa who are still receiving their federal benefits, either through the mail or by traveling to Pago Pago to claim them.

He further explained that these same individuals living in Samoa, including military retirees can also use their Medicare if they wish to travel to the U.S. for medical services and medical benefits.

Another issue that the governor says is a bunch of “lies” being spread in the community is that American Samoa will lose federal funding if the current political status is changed.

The governor points out for example, that the federal government continues to provide funding to freely associated states such as Palau, Federated State of Micronesia and Marshall Islands. Additionally, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, as a commonwealth under the convent agreement continues to get funding from the federal government.

Togiola reiterated his earlier call for the community to base their arguments on facts and not on lies meant to scare people.