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Fixed $228 million appropriation not enough

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Feb. 26, 2010) – American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono on Wednesday testified before the U.S. Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife on the Office of Insular Affairs’ (OIA) fiscal year 2011 budget submitted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Governor noted of the US$228 million annual budget for local government operations, including judiciary that the American Samoa Government does not have sufficient local revenues to fund the entire operating costs of government.

He said American Samoa’s operations appropriation is the same each year; hence the American Samoa Government must absorb the costs of inflation or costs associated with the growing population.

"As a result, American Samoa assumes an increasing percentage of the total costs of government operations each year," according to a copy of the Governor’s written testimony presented to the subcommittee.

[PIR editor’s note: American Samoa is an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States, administered by the Office of Insular Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Its constitution was ratified in 1966 and came into effect in 1967. Executive power is exercised by the governor.]

The Governor also addressed the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds, which cover critical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, wastewater and solid waste systems. He pointed out that OIA has signed CIP totaling US$9.3 million to assist American Samoa with specific capital improvements as detailed in its Five-Year Capital Improvements Master Plan.

Togiola also spoke about needs not covered by the budget, saying that the territory’s "infrastructure needs are driven, not just by ordinary depreciation, but by periodic natural disasters in the form of earthquake, tsunami and hurricanes. For this reason critical needs can remain unmet for long periods of time. We are particularly concerned about the level of medical services we are able to provide locally," he explained.

"Additionally, American Samoa and other territories face the same rapidly changing global economic conditions that larger more developed areas do," he said. "However, we also face the additional burdens of size, isolation and lower levels of development, all of which adversely affect our economic costs and development opportunities."

Togiola recalled an earlier statement during the hearing by the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas, Tony Babauta, who stated that "we islanders have relied on the reefs for recreation, protection, a source of food, and a way to reach back to remind ourselves of our cultural heritage and history."

Babauta "expressed deep concern about the decline of coral reefs and pledged to work with our partners both in the United States and abroad to conserve these fragile ecosystems through improved monitoring, research, education and on-the-ground conservation. This of course applies to the Pacific as well as to the Caribbean," said Togiola.

The Governor informed the subcommittee that in 2002, US Department of Interior (DOI) funded the American Samoa Economic Advisory Commission, which resulted in a report on the comprehensive economic development plan for the territory.

Since that time, he said, "we have made considerable progress on the recommendations of that report" and by "we", the Governor says this includes the American Samoa Government, the federal government and the private sector.

"Our private sector has become more directly involved in the economic development process through a Governor’s Economic Advisory Council which is actually involved in policy and program formulation," Togiola explained.

He noted that the federal government, primarily OIA, has been very active in generating investor interest in the Pacific territories and improving business climate conditions in the territories.

"However, as I have expressed to the Interagency Group on Insular Areas, we have not done as well on Commission recommendations coordinating federal policy for American Samoa, advocating for American Samoa, or DOI and [U.S.] Treasury tracking and finding applications for technological advances and trends in transportation, telecommunications and trade," the Governor told the panel.

"As it has emerged, Congress can wipe out territorial competitive advantages with a stroke of the pen as has been the case with the minimum wage and immigration," said Togiola. "I am not opposed to the minimum wage or immigration modifications, but I am opposed to such actions when they are not tailored to meet our special economic development conditions and needs. This is often done without any coordination with the territories whatsoever."

In yesterday’s edition, the Governor’s comments to the subcommittee on political status for the territories was reported.

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