VIEWS AIRED ON POPULAR ELECTION OF AMERICAN SAMOA SENATORS

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By Aeo'ainuu Aleki

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (March 27, 2000 – Samoa News)---Opposition and support for the proposed bill to elect Senators by popular vote was voiced during a Senate hearing on Friday.

Secretary of Samoan Affairs Sotoa Savali told the committee that he was opposed to the bill, because traditional selection of Senators was the essence of American Samoa. "It is what makes Samoa and this government different, and we must preserve it," he told the Senators.

Attorney General Toetagata Albert Mailo said he supported the bill, because he said there was a need for a change in American Samoa's political system.

Leatutufu Leulusoo Fualau made a strong presentation for the retention of the faaSamoa in the political system. He mentioned the Fono leaders who had been selected through the custom and argued for the retention of Samoan values in Senators' selections.

"Senators," he appealed to the committee, "if you have any love for the people and for who you are, then don't do this.

"No elder who signed the papers in the past had a degree or was 'educated' in that sense, but they were all powered by the feeling of love which made them have the gift of God to foresee and feel for the benefits of the future. Remember, the government is ours together, not just a government for the few," he concluded.

Nifo Ala, an aide to President of the Senate Lutu T. Fuimaono testified against the bill. He emphatically urged the senators to hold fast to the current constitution, which calls for using Samoan custom to select senators.

"It is well known that the United States elects its senators," he told the senate committee, "and when they agreed to have us select our senators by Samoan custom, it was for a reason. Otherwise, they would have removed the provision allowing the faaSamoa to select its senators.

"We know what has happened in Hawai‘i, with their struggling national movements to retain sovereignty for the Hawaiians. Their affairs are overpowered by the constitution as is evident in the recent Supreme Court decision [Rice vs. Cayetano].

"I was called to serve after the war in Baharain, Saudi Arabia. I witnessed a country that was very protective of their values and properties. No matter how rich or influential you are, you cannot ever be a citizen in their country.

"They bring in more than a million expatriates to perform the necessary services their people cannot provide, and the sooner they know a national was able to perform the job, off went the foreign expatriate. No matter how many children were born there, they can never become citizens of the country, because of their protective law.

"I am sure the sooner we open the door, the sooner we will see the erosion of the values, and our identity as a people will merely be Tai-O and Tai-E. The changing of the law to elect the senators is one example of the opening of this door," he concluded.

The bill, authored by Senator Faiivae Galeai, calls for a popular vote on amending the constitution. The bill must be passed by a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the Fono and be approved by the Governor. At that point, the constitutional amendment can appear on the general election ballot as a referendum.

Although the bill changes the method of selection to election, Senatorial candidates would still have to be registered matais, according to bill sponsor Faiivae A. Galeai.

This statement was disputed in the hearing. Sotoa, for example, said that there was no such requirement in Faiivae's bill.

At present, Senators are selected by Samoan custom, by county councils.

When members of the public wish greater accountability from the Senate, they often express a desire to popularly elect Senators.

Faiivae told the Samoa News he is convinced the time has come for a change. He said he would like to see more educated young Samoans serving in the Senate.

Faiivae is not a young man, but he has two master’s degrees -- in education and theology -- and is a successful local businessman with a long history of public service as well.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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