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Unanimous confirmation in House for Lealao

The House in a vote of 13-0 confirmed last Friday the governor’s nomination of Lealao Soloata Melila Purcell Jr. as director of the Department of Agriculture. The director-nominee’s final hurdle for the confirmation process rests with the Senate, which should be sometime this week.

Lealao appeared last Thursday before the House Government Operations Committee for his confirmation hearing, where the issue of his experience as a farmer was raised by Rep. Maneafaiga Faoa, who said that he had no questions on the nominee’s educational and work background.

But, based on the resume presented to the committee, Maneafaiga observed that the nominee is putting his feet into shoes that he is not used to, because nothing mentioned in the resume shows any agriculture experience.

Lealao replied that his focus, as a leader, is on the economic future of the territory and how agriculture can help the territory. He said he wants to stress and emphasize as head of Agriculture Department  the need for residents to return to the traditional Samoan ways of living off the land through farming, to help with the high cost of foods items.

He said he thought hard about this post and he believes he can do the job honestly and with humility if given the chance to serve the people and government of American Samoa.

Responding to questions from Rep. Taotasi Archie Soliai, the nominee told the committee that he started at the post last Monday and he is currently reviewing all aspects of the department’s operations.

Lealao, who was hired last year as a consultant to the DOA to give workshops on vegetable gardening and farming, also told the committee that he has a plantation of taro, banana, papayas and ‘manioka’.

Taotasi thanked Lealao for being very frank with the committee and urged the nominee to “take good care” of the department’s employees as they are the “most neglected” in the ASG workforce.

Several committee members called on Lealao to look at reinstating the annual Farm Fair and doing all possible to assist local farmers, who they said are the backbone of the local economy. Lealao agreed with the committee’s suggestion and pointed out that he is looking at July for this year’s Farm Fair.

Rep. Tu’umolimoli Moliga said a Farm Fair is a great avenue to showcase agricultural products by current farmers and could also encourage other people to return to farming their land. He said the department at the same time should be able to provide discount prices on fertilizers to help farmers.

Lealao said that as part of his overall review of the department, there is also an assessment and inventory being carried out to determine the products that are available at the DOA store to assist local farmers. He said there is always a chance for improvement in this area.

Rep. Pulele’iite L. Tufele said that much more needs to be done for the local farming community because at least 60% of agricultural products needed for the territory are currently coming from Samoa.

Lealao said that at the current rate, locally produced agriculture products cannot support the community’s needs and he is all in support of returning our residents to farming and living off the land.

He said this issue will be revisited to find out what other ways the government can assist local residents grow their own products such as taro, bananas and vegetables to help their families.