Lolo talks about Citizenship, the Fono Building, and relationship with the feds
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — At last Friday’s cabinet meeting, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga spoke about the US citizenship issue, saying it is a “very, very simple” matter and the “position that our people took is very simple.”
“We believe that we are okay the way we are now,” he said, adding that, those who support citizenship is “because either they don’t care or are not concerned about our culture.” He noted the importance of “preserving our culture, and preserving our integrity”.
“We cannot let go of our culture. Why? It’s our only identity. No matter what we do, and where we go, Samoan and our culture is the only identity that we have,” Lolo said and recalled that when the US Congress in the 1950s introduced the Organic Act for American Samoa, “our leaders denied that. They said, ‘no, no’. As long as we get the rights to our culture, to our land, and to our waters, that’s all we want.”
The governor continued, “if you support citizenship, the next five to six years, Aunu’u [island] will be owned by somebody with a lot of money.”
“Citizenship is about freedom, it's about power and it's about economy. That’s what this is all about,” the governor declared. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. But [in] our humble opinion, as long as we hold on to our land, to our waters, and to our culture — why — it's because that’s the only identity that we have.”
He did acknowledge that, “you’re entitled to your own opinion”.
The governor didn’t mention the lawsuit pending before the federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, where three American Samoans have argued that since they were born in a US territory, they are entitled to automatic citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
The American Samoa Government and Congresswoman Aumua Amata have argued against the lawsuit — in which the US State Department and its top officials are named as defendants — that citizenship should not be decided by a federal court but by the people of American Samoa.
Oral arguments for the case were heard two weeks ago and the court says it will issue an opinion as soon as possible.
During the cabinet meeting, Lolo said the citizenship issue is one of the three issues “that have come to our attention” and that's what prompted his public response. The other two issues are the construction of the new Fono building and American Samoa’s relationship with the federal government.
NEW FONO BUILDING
Regarding an update on the new Fono building, Lolo made clear that “we haven’t changed our position” and the government is moving forward with the construction phase.
“We believe our Fono is very important to us. We will pursue our position as we did to begin with,” he said, noting that the Department of Public Works is currently working with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the building’s architect to make sure that FEMA “understands where we are, what we are doing, and why we did the things we did.”
“Right now, as far as I know, we haven’t violated any rules but we’re still working together with FEMA” and the US Department of Interior “to make sure that we relieve some of the pressure that is going on right now,” he said, adding that he hopes construction of the Fono building will resume in the next two or three weeks.
“Any changes [FEMA] wants to make — we asked if they recommend changes — is to provide funds so that we can go ahead and make the changes. But it appears like that’s not going to be the case,” he said.
“They’d like to make changes and hopefully they will help us find funds to make those changes. But if they don’t, we will just continue to build,” he declared.
FEMA Region IX Administrator, Robert J. Fenton, in an Aug. 20th letter to the governor, raised concerns over the new Fono building, which he says does not comply with federal regulations. Failure to comply with federal regulations, Fenton wrote, means a loss of federal funding in the millions of dollars from FEMA, if another disaster happens in American Samoa.
During a cabinet meeting last month, the governor stressed that operations of the territorial government are not dictated by any other federal agency, such as FEMA. (See Samoa News Oct. 2 and 15 editions for details).
Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga led the ASG delegation that met early this month with FEMA officials in Oakland, California. The Fono building was one of the issues raised during the meeting.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RELATIONSHIP
Regarding “our relationship” with the feds, the governor said it’s “much, much better than it was in the past. They’re beginning to listen and trying to understand where we are coming from.”
“Democracy is all about freedom and freedom is to have access to your given rights,” Lolo pointed out. “We should have access to our land, we should have access to our waters, and we should have access to our air, and we should have access to our culture.”
“That’s all we’re asking for. If we have that freedom, then we say ‘we are a free people’,” he said. “Otherwise what we have been doing is colonial. It's a colonial practice that you are told to do this.”
“So we’d like to get that freedom to make sure that we give it to our people, to our generations that will come and make sure they enjoy the freedom that our parents seek,” he added.