Public Protests Against Raises For Am. Samoa Lawmakers

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

New group United Citizens of American Samoa oppose hikes

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Feb. 3, 2016) – "No to Fono pay raise" was a statement called out and echoed by protestors who are opposed to a House bill raising lawmakers’ salaries by $20,000 annually. The protest rally was organized by newly formed local group United Citizens of American Samoa.

The protestors’ raised their voices, starting just around 6a.m. yesterday with a group of about 30, including high schools students, and soon doubled in numbers as they stood with signs on the sidewalk of the Fagatogo Malae across the street from the Fono Building.

The signs carried their message of opposition, which included ‘Public Health Not Fono Wealth’, ‘stop being greedy’, ‘No 2 Fono pay raises’, and "90 Days-$20,000 raise-do the math", referring to the Fono being in session for only 90 session days a year — but seeking a $20,000 annual pay hike.

Police officers on motorcycles were seen telling protestors to keep the street clear so that traffic could move smoothly. Samoa News even noticed Police Commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele stopping his DPS car to inform protestors to keep the road clear.

At the time the protest started the Fono was not in session yet, but some protestors continued until around the time the Fono session started— 10a.m. — and their calls for "no to Fono raise" were heard from inside both the Senate and House chambers, as at one point a protestor used a bullhorn to shout out their message. This led to House Rep. Fetui Fetui being seen outside telling the remaining protestors to please stop using the bullhorn as it was disrupting the Fono session, and their message had been received. Protestors replied they would stop using the bullhorn, however they were not directing it to the Fono, but to the public — to make them aware of the issue. Some protestors were still outside after the session.

During yesterday’s Senate session, Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie noted that if any senator on the floor asks him a question, he provides a response. And he did respond during Monday’s session to a question from Sen. Alo Fa’auuga who asked if Gaoteote was aware of plans being made public by some in the community about a protest regarding salaries of lawmakers.

Gaoteote says if the newspaper, referring to Samoa News, needs him to translate his Samoan remarks into English he will do so in order to get the right English translation. He appears to disagree with the Samoa News story published yesterday in ‘Fono Briefs’ in which Gaoteote is reported to state in part that public complaints have no bearing on Senate decisions.

He recalled what he said on Monday and that is, residents with signs protesting is that person’s right but that will not change the work of the Senate or the Fono — that is already set. He says what senators see should be done — then it will be done. He reiterated that it’s the person’s right to walk with signs (to protest) but that should not be the basis of Senate decisions.

Gaoteote noted that there were students and other residents on the road yesterday exercising their right.

The Senate president didn’t specify what was incorrect in the Samoa News story, and attempts to get a response from him were not successful as of press time.

Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli said he is thankful for such action — referring to the protest — because it shows democracy in American Samoa is healthy and working. He says it may be something new for others — the protest — but added that is "how democracy works." He pointed out that some senators have served in the military to protect people’s freedom to do just this.

Galeai further said such protests should not affect the Senate’s work and senators will make the right decision on issues they deal with.

COMMITTEE DISCUSSION CANCELLED FOR THURSDAY ON PAY RAISE

The second protest is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, which was also the day that the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee was to meet to discuss the bill with a hearing at a later time, if senators requested one.

However, during Monday’s session, there were concerns raised by senators regarding the American Samoa TeleCommunications Authority’s proposed $4.4 million from the ASG Retirement Fund and the $10 million allocated in revenues collected from American Samoa Economic Development Authority (ASEDA) bonds to purchase the Rapiscan for Customs Office at the port.

With the two pressing issues, the ASTCA hearing was scheduled in place of the lawmakers pay hike bill set for tomorrow, while the hearing on the $10 million is set for today.

For now, no new date is scheduled for senators to meet to discuss the salary increase for lawmakers. If the Senate passes it, it will then need to be signed by the governor to become law or the governor can veto it. There has been no word from the governor or his office what he will do with the bill.

Samoa News reporters Ausage Fausia and Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this story.

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