HOUSE PASSES BILL TO INCREASE U.S. FUNDING TO PACIFIC

News Release

American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega Washington, D.C. Sept. 5, 2007

American Samoa Congressman Eni Faleomavaega announced today that the U.S. House of Representatives passed by unanimous consent H.R. 3062, the Pacific Island Economic and Educational Development Act of 2007.

Faleomavaega introduced the bill as a result of his work with the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders (PICL) and in consultation with Dr. Charles E. Morrison, Director of the East-West Center.

[PIR editor’s note: The Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, served by the Pacific Islands Development Program at the East-West Center in Hawaii, is made up of 20 heads of government from the Pacific islands region. The conference, which meets every three years, is currently headed by Marshall Islands President Kessai Note.]

"With the passage of this bill, the House has acted significantly to strengthen our important alliance with the South Pacific Island nations," Faleomavaega said. "The Pacific Islands have been integral to our strategic interests from the vital role they played in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II, to the development of our nuclear testing program, and in keeping open our missile defense system which is critical to our security in this important region of the world. To this day, Pacific Island nations work closely with the U.S. to combat transnational threats, particularly the rapidly increasing peril posed by global warming.

"The people of the Pacific have also fought and sacrificed side-by-side with American soldiers in conflicts from World War II to the current war in Iraq. But as we look towards the Pacific, the U.S. must step up both our multilateral and bilateral relationships and provide needed assistance to ensure that other countries do not fill the void.

"Frankly speaking, our public diplomacy program and educational and cultural exchange with the Pacific region has been shameful and without excuse while foreign assistance and scholarship offerings from other countries to the Pacific Islands has increased dramatically in recent years.

"However, the aid being provided by foreign governments to Pacific Island countries comes with few requirements for good governance and few environmental or labor standards. Left unchecked, such aid can cause instability, leaving Pacific Island nations to believe that the United States no longer is interested to assist them, thereby leaving them vulnerable to establish friendships with countries that do not support our interests.

"For this reason, the U.S. must act now to fill the void and exert its influence. This is why the South Pacific Economic and Educational Development Act of 2007 seeks to address the development needs of our allies in the Pacific Islands and to engage the United States in the region more deeply. This legislation pushes for greater activity in the Pacific Islands by authorizing the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to listen to the needs of the leaders of the Pacific Islands and to provide assistance accordingly. This task would be significantly easier if USAID re-established a serious presence in the Pacific Island region, something that is long overdue.

"The legislation also authorizes funds to increase the number of Fulbright Scholars from the Pacific Islands, making use of our most successful international educational program to increase the training of future leaders of the Pacific Islands.

"Under section 2 of this bill now entitled Pacific Island Country Exchanges, it is the intent of Congress to specifically increase funding for the U.S.-South Pacific Scholarship program, a program which has been in place since 1994 and has been administered by the East-West Center under the direction of the U.S. Department of State. The U.S.-South Pacific Scholarship program has successfully trained many Pacific Island leaders and it is imperative to U.S. interests in the region that we continue this program."

"In this new world, where shipping is vulnerable to terrorism and climate change is a top priority, we need Pacific Island nations as much as they need us, and I am pleased that my colleagues have joined with me in unanimously passing this bill that strengthens our alliance and aids Pacific Island nations in every way possible. I am hopeful that the Senate will also join our efforts and pass this important legislation. Once this is accomplished, we will also need the support of the appropriators before any money will be set aside for these purposes," Faleomavaega concluded.

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