AMERICAN SAMOA SEEMS CONTENT WITH STATUS QUO

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By B. Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 25) - Less than 30 local residents showed up at the Fono guest fale for a public hearing hosted by the Future Political Status Study Commission yesterday. After nearly three hours, it was determined that the majority of the people wanted nothing more than to remain under the current form of government.

The hearing was led by Future Political Status Study Commission vice chairman Sen. Tuaolo Vaivao Manaia, as chairman Tufele Li'amatua was under the weather and not present.

President of Common Cause Dr. Trudie Sala began by saying, "if it ain't broken, don't fix it," followed by a question, "Is anything broken that needs fixing?"

Tuaolo replied negatively, explaining that the Future Political Status Study Commission's role was to look into options available to American Samoa, as after 106 years, she is still an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States.

Rep. Olo Ropati Tagovailoa Atimalala then inquired about the option of free association. Commission member Mapu Jamias answered by saying that the Republic of Palau is under a free association, but this came only after about 500 years of being ruled by the Japanese, Germans, Americans, and the Spanish people.

"We are lucky that we didn't have to go through what they did. It came to a point where their population was almost depleted and their culture nearly disappeared," Jamias explained. Today, Palau has only 15,000 people with an abundance of land in a nuclear free zone.

"They wanted to be free and at the same time, retain their identity," Jamias explained, adding that Palau's form of government took time to establish, as their Constitution was drawn up in 1980 but their status was not granted until 1994.

That year, a compact was drawn up between the Republic of Palau and the United States, whereby the US was to provide security for the island nation which is located in what has been described as a strategic location, in addition to providing US$497 million in funds, to be expended over a period of 15 years.

Of that money, US$70 million was to be set aside to start up a trust fund. "The thing is, under the compact, Palau was not to associate with certain other foreign countries like China and Korea," Jamias explained. If the money was to be overspent before the 15-year time period, the penalty would either be full reimbursement or prison time for the offender(s).

"Under free association, the Republic of Palau is now independent and represented in the United Nations where they can cast votes," Jamias continued, adding that although it may sound interesting, it should be remembered that the children of Palau do not eat for free like the kids here, and their wages are small compared to American Samoa.

Tuaolo reminded everyone that Palau and the US will discuss the terms of the compact in 2009, but the concern is whether or not the US$497 million will still be available to them the next time around.

Local resident Ma'a Asuega took the floor and stated that things were fine the way they are, and the main objective should be leaving things alone, for the sake of preserving our lands.

Ma'oputasi faipule candidate Henry Sesepasara said, "We need to remember that our biggest advantage as compared to other places is our freedom and power to own our own lands."

Local businessman Su'a Carl Schuster was the next to express his opinion, saying that he felt sorry for the Future Political Status Study Commission members for their hard work, because considering the poor attendance at yesterday's hearing, he didn't understand why people kept blasting the Commission and now that they have been given the golden opportunity to express their thoughts on the matter, they have failed to show up.

"I came here today thinking the venue would be jam packed, considering the high number of criticism lodged at the Future Political Status Study Commission," Su'a said. "But I guess I was wrong."

When Su'a asked what American Samoa stood to lose if the territory was no longer unorganized and unincorporated, Commission member Savali Talavou Ale replied that the issue would be sensitive, in a way that much would need to be done in order to protect the culture, tradition, and especially the lands and titles system that we enjoy today.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 12 p.m. tomorrow at the ASCC auditorium. Less than 30 local residents showed up at the Fono guest fale for a public hearing hosted by the Future Political Status Study Commission yesterday. After nearly three hours, it was determined that the majority of the people wanted nothing more than to remain under the current form of government.

The hearing was led by Future Political Status Study Commission vice chairman Sen. Tuaolo Vaivao Manaia, as chairman Tufele Li'amatua was under the weather and not present.

President of Common Cause Dr. Trudie Sala began by saying, "if it ain't broken, don't fix it," followed by a question, "Is anything broken that needs fixing?"

Tuaolo replied negatively, explaining that the Future Political Status Study Commission's role was to look into options available to American Samoa, as after 106 years, she is still an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States.

Rep. Olo Ropati Tagovailoa Atimalala then inquired about the option of free association. Commission member Mapu Jamias answered by saying that the Republic of Palau is under a free association, but this came only after about 500 years of being ruled by the Japanese, Germans, Americans, and the Spanish people.

"We are lucky that we didn't have to go through what they did. It came to a point where their population was almost depleted and their culture nearly disappeared," Jamias explained. Today, Palau has only 15,000 people with an abundance of land in a nuclear free zone.

"They wanted to be free and at the same time, retain their identity," Jamias explained, adding that Palau's form of government took time to establish, as their Constitution was drawn up in 1980 but their status was not granted until 1994.

That year, a compact was drawn up between the Republic of Palau and the United States, whereby the US was to provide security for the island nation which is located in what has been described as a strategic location, in addition to providing US$497 million in funds, to be expended over a period of 15 years.

Of that money, US$70 million was to be set aside to start up a trust fund. "The thing is, under the compact, Palau was not to associate with certain other foreign countries like China and Korea," Jamias explained. If the money was to be overspent before the 15-year time period, the penalty would either be full reimbursement or prison time for the offender(s).

"Under free association, the Republic of Palau is now independent and represented in the United Nations where they can cast votes," Jamias continued, adding that although it may sound interesting, it should be remembered that the children of Palau do not eat for free like the kids here, and their wages are small compared to American Samoa.

Tuaolo reminded everyone that Palau and the US will discuss the terms of the compact in 2009, but the concern is whether or not the US$497 million will still be available to them the next time around.

Local resident Ma'a Asuega took the floor and stated that things were fine the way they are, and the main objective should be leaving things alone, for the sake of preserving our lands.

Ma'oputasi faipule candidate Henry Sesepasara said, "We need to remember that our biggest advantage as compared to other places is our freedom and power to own our own lands."

Local businessman Su'a Carl Schuster was the next to express his opinion, saying that he felt sorry for the Future Political Status Study Commission members for their hard work, because considering the poor attendance at yesterday's hearing, he didn't understand why people kept blasting the Commission and now that they have been given the golden opportunity to express their thoughts on the matter, they have failed to show up.

"I came here today thinking the venue would be jam packed, considering the high number of criticism lodged at the Future Political Status Study Commission," Su'a said. "But I guess I was wrong."

When Su'a asked what American Samoa stood to lose if the territory was no longer unorganized and unincorporated, Commission member Savali Talavou Ale replied that the issue would be sensitive, in a way that much would need to be done in order to protect the culture, tradition, and especially the lands and titles system that we enjoy today.

The next public hearing is scheduled for 12pm tomorrow at the ASCC auditorium.

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