Vote in second reading today to give Swains Island rep voting right
The House of Representatives are scheduled to vote in second reading today the move by nine representatives to amend the constitution to provide the right to vote for the delegate from Swains Island in the Fono.
There were two hearings held in this matter. During the first hearing on Monday, Attorney Genera Talauega Eleasalo Ale pointed out that Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga supports the move. The Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Satele Galu Satele and the Fono’s legal counsel Henry Kappel were also present. A second hearing was held briefly yesterday where the committee agreed to bring the resolution in for a second reading today.
The AG, in the first meeting, further pointed out that this resolution is long overdue, given that the Swains delegate has been in the legislature for 89 years, with only one member in the House and no one in the Senate.
Satele pointed out that while this resolution has good intentions, the question that comes to mind is: How many people are living in Swains; are there any homes in Swains?
Swains Island Representative Alexander Eli Jennings, responded that as of September 2013 he was forced to remove everyone who resided on Swains due to the lack of transportation and communication there.
Jennings said, for so long Swains—Tokelau has had no identity in the American Samoa Government, yet Swains’ long years of service should be duly noted.
The faipule stated this amendment is supported by the constitution and the American Samoa Code Annotated. “It’s our request to be noticed, as our language has faded along with our traditions and culture, yet Swains has done so much for ASG.”
The Swains faipule pointed out with the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Swains waters have added? brought over 200 miles of ocean and represents 1/3 of the total US EEZ in the South Pacific, yet Swains is not getting a penny from any of this.
“Also, in the $470+ million budget, only $50,000 is allocated for Swains.”
He further noted that Tutuila, Aunu’u and Manu’a have a voice in the Fono, yet not Swains, however they are the same with Swains; and pointed out that there’s always been a comparison of the Swains Rep and the territory’s US congressman, yet Tutuila is a territory of the United States, and we don't pay taxes to the US, and it appears that Swains is a territory of American Samoa and not of the US, however Swains people are paying taxes, yet they don't have a voice.
The Swains faipule urged the lawmakers with a humble heart to support this resolution, as Swains celebrates its 90th birthday (slated for next year) — for their representative to have a voice in the Fono.
Manu’a faipule Toeaina Faufano Autele asked if the Swains Rep is allowed a vote, then should there also be a district for Swains, where its faipule will be voted for in the general election? The AG responded that amending the constitution allowing for Swains to vote in the Fono is only the beginning, as more will come on this matter. In other words, they are taking “baby steps”.
The election of a Swains faipule needs to go back to the constitution, said the AG who also pointed out that it’s up to the faipule to include the electing of the Swains Rep into this current move to amend the constitution, but to him this is good enough for now.
Pago Pago faipule, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara pointed out to the AG that according to the constitution, the Swains faipule has to be “adult and a permanent resident of Swains Island”. He then asked Talauega if that’s an acceptable term to use and be required of a candidate for the Swains seat, because “when we talk about permanent resident, a common interpretation means someone “living in Swains”.
Talaugea, agreed with Sesepasara that the language of the constitution requires the faipule from Swains to be an adult and permanent resident of Swains Island, who is also a U.S national. “We essentially have an impossible requirement because it appears that Swains Island is no longer suitable for human habitation at this point and what I gather the purpose of this legislation is to pave the way, for one day having it more suitable for permanent settlement in Swains, like it used to be.”
Kappel stated that in his opinion the existing language is adequate but it might be something that needs to be looked at in the future, to determine whether there need to be some changes — “but at this time, I think it’s adequate”.
Talauega agreed with Rep Toeina that there’s no difference with the faipule of Manu’a and Swains when it comes to the residency issue.
Rep Tu’umolimoli Saena Moliga motioned to make amendments to the resolution that aside from the current move to allow the Swains Rep to vote in the Fono, add the right of Swains Island people to vote for their faipule in the general election.
Of note, Manu’a Rep. Fetu Fetui Jr. said the comparison of Swains Island to Manu’a did not sit well with him, because Manu’a has a population of over 8,000 people, while Swains has only 1,000.
(Samoa News should point out that according to geohive.com, the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau listed Manu’a Islands as having 1,378 people, and in the 2010 Census as having 1,143 people living there. For the Swains Island, geohive.com reported that in 2000 there were 37 people and by 2010 there were only 17 living there. As of 2014, according to Rep. Jennings, there is no one living on Swains Island. Those people “of Swains Island” and “of Manu’a Islands” — who do not live on these islands — were counted according to where they lived, not where they are from.)
This is the second time in the last 15 years that a similar measure has been presented to the Fono. This issue was brought up during the Constitutional Convention in 2010, but it did not move forward during the convention.