Governor: Am. Samoa Must ‘Reaffirm Sovereignty’ Over Resources

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Lolo suggests constitutional changes to push back at Federal actions

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 13, 2016) – Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has suggested to lawmakers that the best avenue, and most cost effective way to move forward any proposed changes to the Constitution — rather than a Constitutional Convention — is through the Legislature, where lawmakers can hold public hearings.

In his State of the Territory Address, the governor also pointed out the need for American Samoa to "reaffirm" sovereignty over its natural assets, especially the ocean, where the federal government has made decisions on how it is used without local input.

While the governor’s Address was delivered in Samoan during a joint Fono session on Monday to officially open the 3rd Regular Session of the 34th Legislature, an English version in a 28-page booklet outlined more details and was distributed to lawmakers, cabinet directors and others who attended the session. The English version also is the ASG official report and will be submitted to the federal government.

REAFFIRMING SOVEREIGNTY

In the official written Address, the governor pointed out that federal decisions and those made by its instrumentalities on the utilization of American Samoa’s physical assets for ocean monuments and sanctuaries without seeking input from local residents "is becoming very alarming."

Additionally, "It is also very disconcerting to be told what is good for us without affording the opportunity to us to present and express what we want." For example, Rose Atoll was converted to a wildlife preserve and a sanctuary taking away "traditional fishing grounds from our own people."

Another example, cited by Lolo, is the expansion of local sanctuaries, which took away traditional fishing grounds despite "vehement objections from our people." The governor stressed that local residents have and will continue to rely on the ocean and land to sustain their livelihood and as a source to supplement income for the low-income earners.

However, he says the Western Regional Fisheries Management Council — despite opposition from the government and people of American Samoa — has now shrunk American Samoa’s 50 mile designated protective zone to 12 miles.

(Lolo is referring to the Council’s recommendation to allow locally based US large longliner fleet to fish in the Large Vessel Protect Area (LVPA) reserved for the locally based alia fleet. A final decision on the Council’s recommendation is still pending with the US Commerce Secretary.)

"It behooves us to reaffirm our claims on our lands and our oceans to ensure that the lives of our people continue to be sustained when economic disasters happen," he said. "We must revisit our constitution to determine whether it contains legal sufficiency to empower us to hold on to our physical and natural assets and to explore other sources of capital to develop our local economy."

CONSTITUTION

In his Samoan address, the governor pointed out that it’s time that American Samoa revisits its Constitution and to make changes as necessary for the territory’s future generation. Lolo says he believes that such changes to the Constitution should go through the Legislature where the Fono can hold public hearings to get public input.

He says its been many years that American Samoa has been working towards amendments to the Constitution, but a Constitutional Convention was unable to make the necessary changes. While the governor didn’t provide specific details on changes to the Constitution, Lolo suspects that the community didn’t fully understand the proposed changes and there wasn’t a sufficient public awareness program dealing with the proposed amendments.

Lolo then informed lawmakers that he is planning to set up an office within the Governor’s Office, to start working with the Fono on proposed changes for submission to the lawmakers for consideration. He says that if such changes are thoroughly explained to the younger generations, they would fully understand.

In the official English version of the Address, the governor said the "increase of adverse effects of federal policies on our struggles to become self-sufficient necessitates re-examination of the legal sufficiency of our Constitution to preserve and protect our physical assets."

He contends that the 2010 Constitutional Convention didn’t affirm proposed issues aimed to clarify certain elements of the Constitution, which "would enhance our capacity to become self-sufficient."

"The returns in terms of benefits derived from the funds invested to hold the Constitutional Convention compels investigation of a more cost efficient process to address constitutional issues," he said.

According to the governor, it makes economic sense for the Legislature to vet all potential constitutional issues. "If the Legislature approves a particular issue it will be automatically placed on the Referendum Agenda to be voted on by the people of American Samoa during the election season," he said. "This will eliminate funds spent on holding a convention."

"Legislation will be submitted for your consideration and approval setting this new pathway to address constitutional issues. It is very cost effective," he added.

BACKGROUND

Changes to the Constitution can be proposed either via the Fono or through a Constitution Convention. Approved changes are then presented to voters to vote on.

During the 2010 Constitution Convention there were several proposed changes approved but those amendments were lumped together into one question and placed on the ballot. The changes were rejected by voters.

One proposed change to the Constitution that has been defeated three times in past elections gives the Fono the authority to override the governor’s veto. The override power, as dictated by the Constitution, currently rests with the US Interior Secretary.

Lolo, as governor and former Senate President, supported this amendment.

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