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Accountability office wants views on wage hikes

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 22, 2009) - The first public meeting by the U.S. Government Accountability Office is set for Monday but it’s for individuals who have specific expertise or background knowledge on minimum wage and labor issues.

GAO is however hosting a public forum on Wednesday, Aug. 26 at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei, giving every sector of the community the opportunity to voice their views and concerns regarding past and future minimum wage hikes.

During a press conference yesterday, Samoan Affairs Deputy Secretary Nanai Afuola told reporters that their office is working with the GAO team to coordinate the public meetings with the first set for Monday at the Feleti Barstow Public Library Conference Room in Utulei.

He said the GAO has set two sessions: the first from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. will be for women and the second scheduled from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. for men. He said these two sessions are not open to the public for individuals to voice criticisms or support of the minimum wage but instead they are for individuals with specific expertise or background on wage matters.

GAO is looking for between six and ten individuals for each session and those interested in participating on the panel should contact the Office of Samoan Affairs at 633-5201 or the Governor’s Office, which is the local contact for the GAO’s three member team.

GAO on Monday issued an open invitation for the public to attend Wednesday’s forum "and share your views on the minimum wage increases". The forum is set for 4-7 p.m.

According to the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, this is an open forum for the community, to not only ask questions but to voice opinions about the wage increases.

GAO wants to get a "general perspective" from the community about this issue, considered by the government as "very critical" in the territory’s economy, as it has played a role in the closure of COS Samoa Packing next month.

If you cannot attend the meeting, you can send your comments to MinimumWageSamoa@gao.gov

During the press conference Nanai urged the community to attend this public forum, adding that GAO wants a full view of the public, not only those who are employed but the unemployed as well as the private sector.

The GAO team has been visiting ASG offices this week, meeting on Aug. 14 with Samoan Affairs and later with the Fono leadership.

On Thursday, Aug. 20 and Friday (yesterday) the team was at the two canneries, seeking input from employees, said Nanai.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono, traditional leaders and the Chamber of Commerce have already urged GAO to obtain "broad community" input on the minimum wage issue to ensure a complete report when it’s submitted to Congress by April next year.

The team will gather information on wages, labor and employment, private sector productivity such as export levels and tax revenues, private sector development initiatives, social assistance programs that collect information on income and/or poverty and immigration and tourism


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