As discussions intensify in American Samoa on the process of political and constitutional evolution, the territory's elected Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono has expressed his preference for the development of free association as a future political status option. In a statement to a United States Congressional Subcommittee a the end of February, the Governor suggested that a formal agreement between the territory and the United States may be required to provide the territory with the neccesary flexibility to engage the international system. OTR provides the relevant excerpts from Governor Tulafono's Congressional testimony.
In March at a Constitutional Convention forum in the territory, the Governor indicated that he favoured the political status of free association which would provide American Samoa with the authority to move forward. A Samoa News article on Governor Tulafono's position on the future political development is also provided below.
Presentation by H.E. Togiola T.A. Tulafono
Governor of American Samoa
to the Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife
Committee on Natural Resources
House of Representatives
United States Congress,
February 24, 2010
Comments on issues important to our fiscal future but not necessarily large fiscal items themselves
This brings me to my final point, and that is that the Federal Government must begin giving more serious thought to the political status of several of its territories. It has already made a start at this with passage of HR 3940 clarifying the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to assist the US non-self-governing territories (colonies) of American Samoa, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands. This would take the form of grants, research, planning assistance, studies, and agreements with Federal agencies, to facilitate public education programs regarding political status options for their respective territories the United States. This bill passed the House of Representatives December 7, 2009. The Senate has yet to address the matter. American Samoa’s political status concerns are as follows:
1. The US Congress is now applying Federal laws to these territories. In some cases these laws concern issues that would be part of a political status
2. These Federal laws are often passed without consultations with the territories.
3. These Federal laws often ignore consideration of the economic or social
impacts upon the territories, often with devastating results (e.g., the
federalization of the minimum wage and immigration).
Therefore, the US Congress is arbitrarily determining the political status of US territories one law at a time without giving these territories any voice in their own self determination. Furthermore, the United States has an obligation to negotiate a modern agreement with American Samoa. The argument that the US Congress can do anything it wants with American Samoa is based in part on the notion that American Samoa willingly gave itself to the US. This is false. The treaties in fact state that Germany, Great Britain, and the United States seized control of the Samoan Islands because of “dissensions, internal disturbances and civil war.”
American Samoa is not just a piece of property (real estate) owned by the US. It is a political entity joined to the US by special circumstances and deserves to be taken seriously in considering the terms of that relationship with the US, its political status. This is based on events suggesting that Congress is gradually establishing that political status on a piecemeal basis.
I am not questioning, the US Congress’ constitutional authority over the territories. However, there are international considerations as well. The UN is obligated by its charter to identify and decolonize territories throughout the world. American Samoa is currently one of only sixteen colonies remaining in the world. The UN recognizes three methods by which territories may become decolonialized. They may become:
1. A sovereign independent state (Independence).
2. Freely associated with an independent state (Compact)
3. Integrated with an independent state (Incorporation).
Presently, American Samoa fits none of the three and is a colony by this definition. This may require some formal agreement between the US and American Samoa, not entirely unlike that of the covenant between the US and the CNMI. Or, the UN might be satisfied with the political status quo if it is approved by the people of American Samoa through a democratic process (i.e., a vote of the people or the legislature.)
In fairness, neither party has been anxious to change the status quo since the
arrangement seemed mutually agreeable to both, and especially since American Samoa had some serious catching up to do in education, self-government and other areas since 1900.
Much has changed over the years. American Samoa has become virtually self-governing in the process, becoming modernized with much assistance from the United States. However, American Samoa’s government remains a creation of the US executive office and exists at the pleasure of that office and the Congress.
I do not want to be misunderstood on this. We are Americans. We have been
Americans for over a century. We have defended America with our service and our lives. Our dedication to our country is not diminished because we raise the issue of our political relationship or the need for due process in the formalization of that relationship.
Again and again, in political status commissions over the last five decades
American Samoans have expressed a preference for the status quo in its
relationship with the US. I am convinced that they would agree that at this stage of our relationship some formalization of our relationship is necessary as a matter of basic fairness and to meet our international obligations. This is especially the case today as Congress continues to address territorial issues on an ad hoc basis.
I thank you for your kind attention and consideration.
Togiola says American Samoa should have same relationship with US as Palau
By Tina Mata’afa
March 15, 2010
Gov. Togiola Tulafono believes the best political status for American Samoa is to have the same relationship with the United States as Palau does, noting American Samoa’s current status does not allow us to seek foreign aid outside the US. Togiola made the statement when he spoke at the American Samoa Community College Constitutional Convention forum last week.
Called “the million dollar question” by moderator Tapaau Dr. Daniel Aga, Togiola was asked: “What form of political status do you believe is best for the people of American Samoa?”
The Governor noted that is not the opinion of his office, but his own personal belief that “an autonomous governance” with the benefit of US passports and federal dollars such as those enjoyed by Palau “would be the best for us.”
“The second thing that I need to say about that choice ... from my perspective is the fact that we are resisted from seeking assistance from other countries because we are not allowed under our structure with the United States to do so,” he added. He said when he managed the Mini Games in 1997, he wanted to solicit assistance from Taiwan, but the US State Department told him he couldn’t do it.
“It’s one of those things because we are small territory of the United States and these are policies that are handed to us,” Togiola stated. “If we have self governance ... autonomy, we can do what we want and we have access to foreign aid that is far greater and broader than what our United States government give us.” He said he suggested that the Future Political Status Study Commission (FPSSC) look at the Palau agreement with the US.
“I think that’s the best agreement of all these self governing states,” Togiola said. “That agreement allows Palauans to have free access to the United States” as they do not need visas and hold US Passports but are afforded protection by the US.
Palau gained independence from the United Nations trusteeship administered by the United States on Oct. 1, 1994 and entered a Compact of Free Association with the United States, explains Wikipedia.com.
The Compact of Free Association between the United States and Palau sets forth the free and voluntary association of their governments, and is primarily focused on the issues of government relations, economic relations, and security and defense relations, adds Wikipedia.
Palau has no independent military, and relies on the US for its defense and under the Compact, the US military has been granted access to the islands for 50 years.
Togiola pointed out that under the agreement, Palau and the US every 15 years, negotiate a structure of fiscal assistance “where they will agree how much assistance Palau will need over the next 15 years.” He said those monies are put into a trust fund from which the Palau government draws funds to supplement local revenue.
“And they have total access to the military ... they enter the military of the United States and can go as far as they want,” the Governor added. “A structure like that is beneficial for us ... at the same time Palau asked Japan to build them a bridge ... Japan built a bridge free of charge in Palau because of foreign aid.” He said it was a $10 million bridge that even rivals the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.
Togiola said there would also be control of educational resources and access to the European Union with such an agreement with the US. He put the question back to students and told them to ask themselves what kind of political status would be best for American Samoa.
FPSCC, in its Recommendation No. 1 said “American Samoa shall continue as unorganized and unincorporated territory and that a process of negotiation with the US Congress for a permanent political status be initiated.”
In responding to questions on the process by which American Samoa would negotiate its permanent political status, Togiola explained that the Constitutional Convention set for June will determine “what changes will go into the present constitution.”
The students’ question was: the FPSSC Recommndation No. 1 states that “American Samoa shall continue as unorganized and unincorporated territory and that a process of negotiation with the US Congress for a permanent political status be initiated.”
a) Please explain the “process of negotiation” for a permanent political status;
b) After the Constitutional Convention, what happens next?
c) How will the people of American Samoa participate in the process?
PROCESS OF CHANGE
The first step is for new recommendations from the Convention to go to the Fono, Togiola said. He added that the present constitution requires that all amendments must be put forth in a joint resolution. If the resolution passes, he explained it is then handed to the people in a referendum. The governor, he said, places the referendum on the ballot in the next election.
“And then the people will vote yes or no,” said Togiola. “If they agree with all the changes that are being made, then the yes may prevail. If the people don’t agree, then it may not prevail.” If the people vote yes, he continued, the governor then submits it to the Secretary of Interior to present to the US Congress. Under US Law, the Governor noted, the AS Constitution cannot be valid or enforceable unless approved by Congress.
“If this recommendation ... that says let’s maintain present status quo, but let’s ask Congress for authorization for us to enter into negotiations with the United States for a different political status, once Congress approves that ... most likely the governor and the legislature will appoint a negotiating team that will then negotiate with the Unites States— probably the Department of Interior and State Department ...”
He said it was Interior Department that negotiated contracts with compact states such as the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. “If this is approved, a team from American Samoa will be meeting with representatives of the United States to discuss those things,” said Togiola.
Togiola said the process “is not going to be a short or quick process ... in some of the Micronesian states, it took almost 10, 12 years to negotiate agreements. So we’re not looking to this to end in the year 2014 or 2016, it’s probably going to be longer than that.” He says there’s probably “a million issues” that have to be worked out.