26 May 2010

American Samoa Governor Addresses UN Pacific Seminar

Governor Togiola Tulafono presents American Samoa’s stand on self-government to UN decolonization seminar


Gov. Togiola Tulafono on Tuesday presented American Samoa’s stance on non self-governing territories at the opening of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization’s Pacific seminar in this French territory.

Togiola, in his statement to the committee, summarized the history of American Samoa’s experience under the protection of the United States for the past 110 years, and the steps the Samoans have taken, which clearly indicate their desire to move towards greater self governance and self determination.

“In the past, American Samoa has asked this committee to remove American Samoa from the list of colonized territories because we felt our ‘unincorporated and ‘unorganized’ status was akin to being a self governing country,” said Togiola.

“While that position still holds today, I believe, that given the history, it is time that a more definitive work plan is put in place to forge a more collaborative approach between the Territory and our protector, the United States of America, for moving forward on issues of political status, local autonomy, self governance, and economic development.”

Togiola then directed the Committee’s attention to the history of American Samoa’s political development beginning with the crafting of the Deed of Cession as the original guidance from ‘our forefathers’ that the land, the language and the culture were to be protected and preserved for Samoans.

He pointed out the necessity to advance once again the process of change because of his concern with the rise in the federalization that has adversely affected American Samoa’s political and economic growth.

The Governor noted the struggle with regards to minimum wages; restrictions on grants and aid; the threat of federalization of immigration and customs; and a host of other restrictions that are affecting the territory without American Samoa’s choice or voice.

“One of the challenges we deal with everyday is the lack of technical assistance and expertise to truly understand the effects of federal laws on our small Territorial economy and form of government,” he said.

“Another challenge is the increasing responsibilities of Territories to comply with federal requirements at levels that are expected of … States, and at times, in cases where considerations should move for exempting the Territories from these requirements.”

Togiola informed the Seminar participants of the preparations by American Samoa for its constitutional review in June, with the establishment of the Constitution Review Office, the Constitutional Review Committee and the educational outreach undertaken to engage the people and explain the issues and the process, especially to the students from the college and the high schools.

“American Samoa stands upon the cusp of a process which may result in sweeping changes to our political landscape,” said Togiola.

“While we are mindful and respectful of our ties with the United States, I have been encouraging our people to take a long term view about our situation, bearing in mind the protection of those things that make us Samoans.”

During the presentation of his statement, Governor Togiola extended an invitation to the Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, Donatus Keith St. Aimee (of Saint Lucia) to be his personal guest to observe the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention in the month of June, so he may report back to his Committee on the process and the expressions of the constitutional review. St. Aimee assured Togiola that he is grateful for the invitation, and if he can, he would like very much to accept the invitation.

At the closing of the two-day seminar on Thursday, Togiola asked the U.N. Committee, through its chairman to not focus solely on the political decolonization of the Territories.

“A thorough examination of decolonization that has taken place, especially as regards to the small island states, uncovers that while political decolonization is achieved, these states often times maintain a high degree of dependence upon their administering power for economic survival. This can be seen and characterized as economic colonization,” the governor said.

“For decolonization to be meaningful, states must have the ability to provide for themselves, or at least be able to make their own way in the world. This economic decolonization may ultimately prove to be more challenging than decolonizing politically,” he said.

He also expressed his sincere gratitude to Aimee and the committee for the invitation to appear before the committee. Togiola further thanked Phillippe Gomes, President of New Caledonia, for the wonderful hospitality and generosity shown to American Samoa all throughout the seminar.

Before departing New Caledonia on Saturday (New Caledonia time), Togiola will be conducting follow up meetings with Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dr. Jimmie Rodgers, and his staff on technical assistance matters important to the Territory.

(Source: Governor’s Office, American Samoa)

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