Lolo calls on feds to relax “federal policies that tie our hands”
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has called on the federal government to waive some of its federal mandates and polices affecting American Samoa to allow the territory to grow its economy in order to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.
Among the federal policies the governor is pushing — is for an exemption to the federal cabotage law, saying this federal restriction is impacting tourism development and that the current round trip airfare between Honolulu and American Samoa is not only outrageous but “inhuman”.
The governor was speaking yesterday during the three-hour annual meeting of the federal Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA) at the White House — focusing on economic development in the territories, and a live-stream was provided. Lolo was the first of the leaders from the territories to speak at the last IGIA meeting.
At the outset of his remarks, Lolo pointed out that it takes 17 hours to fly from American Samoa to Washington D.C. and about 10 to 11 hours from the West coast to American Samoa, which is “right in the middle of no where, not even closer to any of the major industrial centers in the world.”
In arguing his point for a cabotage waiver to allow for local tourism development, Lolo said the one-way airfare between Honolulu and Pago Pago is almost $1,000 compared to about $200 or $300 between Honolulu and San Francisco or Los Angeles. “And to pay almost $2,000 on a round trip from Honolulu to American Samoa, not only is it outrageous, but it’s inhuman,” he said.
Lolo says he mentioned the distance because it’s a “major tyranny in our development” and that “Congress believes American Samoa can fit in at any size.” However, he said the “concept of one size fits all has never worked for us and never will,” adding that American Samoa’s distance from the US “makes us very unique in any development that we try to make.”
In American Samoa, “we can feel the pinch and the impact of distance. For instance, if the barrel of [oil] costs $25 to $30 — by the time it gets to American Samoa its double or three times the cost of the fuel.”
He went on to share that the most recent dilemma faced by the territory is the uncertain future of the two canneries, which have reached out to the local government for assistance but “we can only do so much. The help that they need is sitting right here in Washington D.C.”
“It takes the federal government to come out to support our canneries in order for us to sustain those two canneries,” he said and predicted that the “two canneries — if they don’t make money in the next five years — will be out of our territory.”
He explained that the local and federal government makes up 50% of the local economy while the two canneries support the other 50%. “Image if one of these two canneries leaves? It will place us in a disastrous situation where we cannot afford to live,” the governor said.
According to Lolo, one of the major setbacks he has experienced in his three years as governor is the “application of federal mandates and federal policies” in American Samoa. He says these federal policies do not meet and suit American Samoa’s needs.
And then he brought to the attention of the IGIA meeting some cases that “are creating a lot of distress and commotion in our territory.” For example, the US Commerce Department’s fisheries service pushed for and got the reduction of the Large Vessel Protected Area (LVPA) from 50 to 12 miles — and despite objections from local leaders and residents — it is now in place.
“There are several other cases that need to be addressed and that’s why I said, the biggest setback in any development, is the application of federal rules and policies in American Samoa,” Lolo said.
Another federal mandate that has impacted the local economy — particularly the canneries, is federal minimum wage, which forced one cannery to leave in 2009 — referring to COS Samoa Packing.
Lolo said it was fortunate that American Samoa was able to attract another cannery that helped American Samoa create a few more jobs, adding to the work force the territory has today.
He asked that the federal government provide more federal incentives that will even-up the playing field for canneries operating on US soil.
Lolo says another problem is that each federal agency defines American Samoa in any way they want. For example, federal immigration policies “define us as non Americans.” The Federal Aviation Administration designates Pago Pago as an international airport.
He stressed several times that the dilemma faced by American Samoa today is the application of federal rules and policies impacting economic development. “We cannot develop our tourism industry because the cabotage concept is applied to American Samoa,” the governor noted.
Lolo also said that American Samoa is in dispute with the FAA over the airport land and that the FAA believes this land should be under its purview, “knowing very well that our lands can only be owned by Samoans according to our local statute.”
He said, “Most of the federal policies do not have the respect for our local statute and local mandates.”
Lolo said, “So all we are asking the federal government is to provide us the assistance so we can be on our own — self sufficient, and self reliant… We cannot move forward to achieve that vision… unless we are given the privilege and some of those federal policies that tie our hands in terms of development are relaxed.”
Waiving some of those federal mandates will allow the territory to develop its economy and within five to 10 years, American Samoa “will not only become self reliant, it will no longer depend on the federal government to put up the resources for its existence,”the governor stated said.