09 June 2010

Amer. Samoa Governor Calls for Political Status Modernisation

Now is the time to revisit our relationship with the U.S. says Togiola

Samoa News
 By Fili Sagapolutele fili@samoanews.com

American Samoa’s relationship with the U.S. government is becoming a difficult one with no relief in sight, says Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who calls on the community to revisit this relationship in order to resolve matters dealing with federal influence as American Samoa moves forward to find a better future.

Now is the time for American Samoa to discuss this important issue and for American Samoa to move towards greater self-governance without more outside influence, Togiola said on his weekend radio program.

Although there is a consensus for American Samoa to continue the close relationship with the federal government in the areas such as economic development, the Governor says there will be no relief for the territory in the future unless there is a solid stand on self government.

This means American Samoa should enact laws for itself without the current status, which requires federal approval for any new laws before they are enacted, he said, adding that this requirement is something that he is pushing to be removed.

Whatever laws enacted in American Samoa are created by its people and should not require outside approval, he stated, adding that a big problem now facing the territory is local economic development being affected by laws created outside the territory, without thinking about their impact on American Samoa. He cited, for example the federally mandated minimum wage hikes.

He said he believes that there will be no improvement in the future as a new generation of Americans enters the U.S. Congress and this new generation is not familiar with American Samoa as compared to past Congressional members (and some current ones) who served in World War II and are familiar with the Pacific and their unique needs and circumstances.

He said these past Americans from the 1950s and later years, have been to American Samoa and the Pacific and witnessed the difficulties faced by island residents.

Based on research, Togiola said these Americans made it easy to move issues on American Samoa in Washington, but he noted that that has changed.

According to the Governor, the territory can constantly raise with Washington the point about long standing military service by American Samoans as well as the high number of American Samoan casualties in wars, but no one will consider it anymore.

Togiola says his big concern is that American Samoa has no power to stop a U.S. Supreme Court decision when it comes to our land.

He said current laws require certain Samoan blood percentage to own land and it’s one issue that may be challenged in the Supreme Court if American Samoa’s lands becomes permanent lands of the United States.

The Governor says there is a similar case pending with the court in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and it has not yet reached the Supreme Court, who looks at the entire U.S. and not just one sector. He said American Samoa has made it through the past 110 years, but in the last 20-years many changes have occurred in our relationship with the U.S. and many of those changes are not beneficial to the territory.

Togiola said he expects a lot of criticism regarding his views and statements and many in the opposition are concerned with what will happen to federal grants and programs for American Samoa.

He said these concerns can be addressed if a good agreement is in place with the U.S. so that American Samoa has more self-governance of its own affairs in the areas such as law and operation of the judicial system, which he feels should be in the hands of American Samoans.

The Governor says American Samoa needs to stop the practice of dependence on the federal government and strive for more self reliance. He said this is the big problem he sees — that residents are depending more on others.

Togiola said he raises this issue as part of public discussion, as American Samoa prepares for the two-week Constitutional Convention set to begin on June 21. He encourages the public to share their views on this issue.