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'Fathers of the Territory' speak: Only 3 Manu’a Senate seats

Rendering of the proposed new Fono Building. [SN file photo]
9-9 vote results in rejection of measure seeking to return 2 senate seats for Manu'a

In an unexpected turn of political events in the Fono, the Senate rejected a measure that seeks to return two senatorial seats for Manu’a,  after the proposal which would change the Constitution, failed to muster the required votes for approval.

“I believe and it's my understanding that it’s the voters who make the final decision,” said Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli after the measure was defeated at last Friday’s Senate session. “However, the Senate has made its decision on the measure.”

Prior to the vote on the measure, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie reminded  senators that the measure required two-thirds approval in each chamber. After the vote, by roll call, was made, Gaoteote announced the tally of 9-yes and 9-no. Therefore, the bill was not approved because it required 12-yes votes, or two-thirds, for approval.

All 18 senators were present during Friday’s session.

As word spread quickly about the measure not making it through in the Senate, two long time political observers told Samoa News that they were a bit surprised. “It's an unexpected turn of political events that there weren’t enough votes in the Senate for approval to move it forward to the House,” said one observer Friday afternoon.

A similar measure was passed by the Senate in the 34th Legislature and submitted to the House, but it didn’t make it out of a House committee last year as that Legislature had come to an end.

Over the years, there have also been similar attempts to reinstitute the two Manu’a senatorial seats.

Earlier this year in April, Galeai along with two other Manu’a senators — Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua and Misaalefua J. Hudson — sponsored the latest Senate Joint Resolution.

The senators had argued during a Senate committee debate that they were not seeking two additional seats for the island group, but instead sought to “return” what had been taken away from Manu’a more than 50 years ago.

The Manu’a senators, in the measure’s preamble, pointed out that the Constitution originally mandated 15 members of the Senate: 5 each from the Western, Eastern and Manu’a districts. However, the membership was changed under the 1960 Revised Constitution.

The change saw Senate membership increased to 18 — but “the basis of the representation was changed from one senator per traditional political county or five per district to ‘population’ of districts,” according to the preamble. The effect was to increase senators for the Eastern District from five to nine; five to six for the Western District, and a reduction of five to three for Manu'a.

“There is no explanation regarding the reduction of senatorial seats for Manu’a and no explanation for the meaning of ‘population’ of districts,” the Manu’a senators argued and noted that there are 15 traditional counties of American Samoa — five of them in Manu’a.

Despite having five counties, Manu’a is represented by only three senators.

“Manu’a’s traditional counties are under-represented in the present composition of the Senate,” the Manu’a senators argued.

“It is the wisdom and foresight of our Manu’a forefathers who saw it was best for our people to align ourselves with the United States of America by entering into the Deed of Cession in 1904,” the senators pointed out.

Furthermore, “the decisions made for us by our wise forefathers who signed the Deed of Cession and the American Samoa Constitution should be respected and honored,” the senators said. “It was their wish that all Samoans are represented fairly in our Legislature.”

The measure had sought to amend the Constitution, so that Manu’a would have five senators, instead of the current three. It would have been one senator from each of the five Manu’a counties: Ta’u, Fitiuta, Faleasao, Ofu and Olosega (together with Sili village).