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ConCon approves three amendments on third day of deliberations

Ti’alemasunu Dr Mikaele Etuale, Tuaolo Manaia Fruean,  Faiivae Iuli Alex Godinet

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Three proposed amendments were approved by the Constitutional Convention that will be subject to the ballot during the November midterm election, which includes giving the Governor the authority to appoint a Chief Justice for the Judiciary.

Approved unanimously is the removal of the references to our local government as the Government of American Samoa instead inserting the American Samoa Government and the Veto Override Amendment removing the authority of the Secretary of Interior to approve or disapprove a bill passed by the Legislature over the Governor’s veto.

The amendment regarding the appointment of the Chief Justice did have mixed reviews but it was approved by way of vote of 100 yays and 22 nays.

According to the Constitutional Review Committee report, proposed revisions to Article III Section 3 of the Revised Constitution remove the authority of the U.S. Secretary of Interior to appoint the Chief Justice of American Samoa and any Associate Justices. This decision would be left to the Governor of American Samoa subject to confirmation by the Fono.

"This amendment also clarifies that the Chief Justice and Associate Justices shall hold their offices during good behavior until resignation, retirement, death, or impeachment."

Senator Soliai Tuipine motioned to approve the authority given to the Governor to approve the Chief Justice as per the request from Secretary of the Interior. However, High Chief Malemo Tausaga who is also Treasurer, voiced his objection, asking whether there are any issues that led to the proposed amendment.

 “The Department of Interior provides $300,000 to pay the salaries for the Chief Justice and the Associate Justice. Also there are three branches of Government, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, this amendment will tremble the independency of the Judicial.

“Therefore I reject this proposal,” said Malemo.

Senator Tuiagamoa Tavai asked the local representative of the Department of Interior Faleafine Lydia Nomura on her views of this amendment.

Former Policer Commissioner and Cabinet Director Le’i Sonny Thompson, High Chief of Manu’a also objected and supported the question posed by Malemo on whether there are any issues that prompted this move.

“It’s 122 years since the American Samoa Government was established and over the years it’s evident the Federal Government provides a bulk of funding to assist with the operations of the local Government.

“If we allow this amendment to proceed it will jeopardize the independence of the Judicial and will be politicized again, is there a problem, that led to this proposal?” asked Le’i.

He concluded, “if change has been prompted for the sake of change, then I am against it.”

Retired Associate Judge, High Chief Logoai Siaki also cautioned that Judiciary is an independent arm of Government and it should remain that way.

“The Judiciary should be not involved in any politics.” According to Logoai, the proposed change is unnecessary and he urged delegates to reconsider. He said unless the American Samoa Government is considering being an independent State, then they should proceed with the changes, but for now, leave it the way it is.

Senator Soliai Tuipine said when the issue of American Samoa appointing its own Governor back then came up, our forefathers were cautious.

“At that time, our ancestors did not want a Samoan Governor, but wanted a Palagi Governor, but now, we are now electing our own Samoan Governor.

This was a directive by the Department of Interior and we followed suit, and it is the same issue now. The DOI directed us to appoint our own Chief Justice and this is outlined in a letter the Governor received,” said Soliai.

“This is the only other aspect of the local governance that should be considered — appointing of a Chief Justice by the Governor,” said Soliai.

He asked why are scared to make such appointments. “This was the same concern when the Department of Interior asked us to elect our own Governor, but what now, so [we shouldn’t] be scared to make the necessary changes,” he said.

Senator Alo Paul Stevenson said this issue is quite delicate and this is an opportunity for us to make our choices. “We also want to remove the [veto override] authority accorded to the Department of Interior and now this is our choice, whether we let them continue to appoint for us, or we shall do it on our own?” questioned Alo.

“This is a challenge that we should take on or delay it a little bit, but we have to consider the long term effect,” he said.

Ufagafa Ray Tulafono took the floor and said the appointment made by the Governor will not in anyway jeopardize the independence of the Judiciary.

“The appointment is made by the Governor and will be subject to Legislative approval, but that will not take away its independence as a separate arm of Government. In the past there was reluctance whether we should elect our own Governor and to date, we are still doing that and that is the beauty of self-governance and considering that our Government has been established over 100 years, it is mature enough to make such decisions.

“We are the only territory of America that continues to rely on the Department of Interior to appoint a Chief Justice, yet all other US territories are appointed by their Governments. It is time for change, if not now when?” asked Ufaga.

The same sentiments were supported by former Governor Togiola TA Tulafono, urging the Constitutional Convention not to be scared to make changes in moving forward.

Adding that other opinions rendered earlier are weary that in any case the appointment will be politicized but those were the same concerns back in 1976, when American Samoa set to elect its own Governor.

He said now it is 46 years later since the election of the Governor began and therefore change should be considered.

“I asked the Department of Interior as to why they continue to appoint the Chief Justice, but the response is, this is in accordance with the Constitution of American Samoa.

“We cannot change your constitution, only American Samoa can amend its constitution,” said Senator Togiola.

Pulu Ae Ae Jr, a Pago Pago High Chief questioned the accuracy of the earlier comments about a letter from the Department of the Interior directed to Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga about this issue.

“There should be records of these things, I don’t believe in what is being said, show me the letter to ensure the accuracy of what the Department of the Interior is suggesting,” he stated.

Pulu further noted the contract benefits for the Chief Justice and the Associate Justice as per appointment by the Department of the Interior is “reasonable and good” as they are Federal staff, but that will be removed once the appointment is made locally and the Chief Justice and the Associate Justice will have to rely on the Government retirement.

Pulu then suggested why not “elect” the Chief Justice by the public. More from the Constitutional Convention in tomorrow’s edition.