THE CONVERSATION: OMV has been double charging the statutory amount for decades

Refunds are available now

The Conversation is a new column the Samoa News team and I envision as happening in a new forum, a bi-weekly column simply called, “The Conversation”, but that depends entirely on the reader’s willing participation both here and on the Samoa News website.

Think of it as a cross between an investigative report covering the most pressing local issues of the day, but with reader interaction, similar to “Letters to the Editor”.

However, this column is much more purpose driven than just that. This column has the definite goal of crafting actionable plans as a cooperative community effort in order to yield solutions for each carefully chosen topic discussed here.

More specifically, “The Conversation” is a platform designed to create positive changes to be enjoyed by all in American Samoa, especially for those upon whom the future of this beautiful island and culture depend: Our children.

Responders will remain "anonymous" when posting comments or sending ideas into the column or posting online, if that is their choice. I feel that way, people don't have to feel less than someone else or more important than someone else contributing their idea to the column or the problem being addressed. However, Samoa News does reserve the right to not post or print comments or ideas from our readers that are slanderous or lacking in civility.

Let’s keep the Conversation going to create positive changes. Enough with the back stabbing. Enough with the love to hear yourself sound smart. Let’s Talk.

We look forward to many future conversations.

THIS WEEK’S CONVERSATION BEGINS SIMPLY WITH A QUESTION

Are you aware that American Samoa vehicle owners have been unknowingly over-charged double or more for their vehicle registration renewals for decades?

Yes. Sadly, it's true! Refunds averaging $45 to $70 or more are now being issued for those who inquire. However, this is most likely available for a very limited window of time until the Fono meets in July and writes new statutes unless you the public take the necessary action.

I would like to publicly thank Police Commissioner Le’i SonnyThompson and Special Assistant James Faumuina for their professionalism and assistance via the Department of Public Safety. These men were key to implementing the necessary steps with the OMV to make these refunds possible while ensuring that new registration renewals are charged the correct fees.

Also, thanks to Adam Balinski, former Assistant AG at the AG’s office for thoroughly investigating this matter once it was brought to his attention, and working to set the matter straight, bringing this matter to where it is today.

You need to know the details, which is why I share this with you in what happens to be the first article of it’s kind here in American Samoa, and  because of the preliminary explanation, this will probably be the longest column written for some time.

Why Address This OMV Registration Issue Now? (Or even at all?)

  1. The first answer is very basic; the law which protects both the law giver, and the law receiver is being ignored.
  • Here is the current statute from the Annotated Code of American Samoa, written in 1977:

Title 22 - Highways and Motor Vehicles; Chapter 10; Section 22.1002- Application for and issuance of license-Fees;

Subsection (d) The following vehicle license registration fees are established:

(1) motor vehicle, including private vehicles, cargo vehicles, buses, motorcycles, taxis, trailers, tractors and rentals, $32.00; plus per ton of weight, $12.00;

(2) bicycle, $2.00;

(3) renewal for motor vehicle, $32.00;

(4) Legal Ownership Certificates and Titles, $10.00; (etc…)

Notice d) (1) gives us the tag fees for a first time registration. This is either a new vehicle purchase here or a vehicle brought on island for the first time. Next, d) (3) shows us the renewal fee for any vehicle regardless of size, weight or usage is $32. Period. (A $9 inspection fee is also assessed to ensure safe driving in American Samoa.)

So, the total fee for each individual's vehicle would be no more than $41, each and every registration renewal.

  1. When this statute for registration fees was shown to the OMV employees nearly a year and a half ago, I was basically told, “We don’t do it that way; we decide how to do things here. You pay what we say you pay.” Leading me to believe that the law and statutes don’t matter to them. Clear guidelines meant nothing.
  2. The biggest and most complex reason this must be addressed is that this situation both demonstrates and advances a dangerous notion all too common in both our world today, and American Samoa: “The rules don’t apply to me; I am above the law!” This sends a clear message to the youth in our community that when an authority position is attained, you get to write your own rules regardless of what laws and rules exist.
  3. Excuse me? No. This philosophy must be eradicated from our society. It is a leprous disease, causing numbness to the pain of it’s damage all while consuming this island’s people and their future bit by bit until all that remains is gag-inducing rotten flesh. Will you let that happen and do nothing?

Albert Einstein spoke on the dangers of failing to speak out against wrong when he said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”

Edmund Burke, shared this same philosophy. He stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

 We, the people of this community, must stand firmly together and demand that the law be enforced fairly, not only at the OMV, but in every facet of our island. We must send the clear message that written laws and statutes will not simply be ignored by those in places of public service, whether it be government, or any other auxiliary bodies in American Samoa.

What Specifically Can We Do About The Current Registration Issue?

Do you remember the Civil Rights Activist Rosa Parks’ main reason for refusing to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, AL?  “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired,” wrote Parks in her autobiography, “but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Just in case you've never heard the story or you've forgotten it's significance, this single act (she was actually arrested minutes later) by a little lady started a conversation that spread around the United States like wildfire.

That conversation then led to sweeping changes that have forever affected the landscape of America not only for that generation but future generations of Americans. Without that conversation, new freedoms and new possibilities would remain closed to each and every American. That conversation continues today as positive changes are implemented.

Government does not hold all the power. We the people do; the government was selected and then elected by us. Never forget that! We can bring change as a united group to whatever we put our mind to.

So, I ask you Dear Readers: Aren’t you tired of giving in? Of settling for less than what is right? Aren’t you tired of clear societal or legal wrongs in American Samoa that go unchecked? Tired of not having a voice to speak out? Tired enough that you are willing to take a stand? To even risk ridicule for helping make that change?

Most importantly, and the real reason behind this column, do you want to help shape and architect American Samoa’s future?

If your heart says "YES!", then now is your chance to be part of the change. To continue that conversation that also began when for the first time the public demonstrated against the Fono last year when our faipule tried to give themselves a pay raise — while ignoring the low salaries of public servants such as teachers and public safety officers.

A slight twist to this column is that contributors can remain anonymous in this group conversation. The anonymity cancels any undue influence to accept or reject ideas for change based upon family name, work, or status in the community. Great solutions can be offered by anyone, and are welcomed in this column. Just keep it civil.

Let’s Do This Now!! Specific Action Plan Proposed

Rosa Parks and what she did if applied becomes a blueprint that will work in handling almost any problem situation here in American Samoa. Let’s unpack those.

1) Rosa a) first saw a problem, and b) she decided to take action.

I saw a simple problem with the registration fees being charged to my vehicle nearly 2 years ago. I realized that the current fees charged to individual's vehicles are not supported by the statutes of American Samoa.

Once again, per the statute, a vehicle renewal fee is $32, in addition to a $9 inspection fee. That's it! Any amount that was charged to you higher than $41 is now owed to you in a refund.

Quick Refund Formula:

Each Vehicle Owned x $ above $41  x  Years of Registration Renewed = Total Refund

Per DPS directives, the OMV simply needs the tag number, your name, and how many years back you’ve made a renewal for that vehicle to generate a refund.

My refund was only for $36 for 1 year of renewal, but a gentleman I shared this with is owed $440 over the last 11 years of vehicle ownership. What could yours be?

2) Rosa didn't give up her seat no matter how much ridicule she received.

When the statute was pointed out, no one at the OMV wanted to acknowledge it.

For more than a year, I have continued working behind the scenes through many conversations to resolve it, mostly while being ridiculed until Adam, then James and Commissioner Thompson took action. That’s ok. Ridicule never killed anyone.

3) Rosa did what she did not for herself but for Others.

This work and time was dedicated not for myself but for everyone on island who owns a vehicle, and has been over-charged year after year. Why else would I have invested so much time effort and energy when the monetary refund to me personally was so small? Families here can really benefit from these refunds. This isn’t about just me, and mine.

4) Rosa's Action Created Positive Change.

Eventually I was able to connect with officials in the AG's office and in the Department of Safety (DPS) which governs vehicle registration protocols. Officials there, after much time and effort was exerted, finally acknowledged the mistake and are now offering refunds to those impacted by that mistake.

5) Rosa's efforts would have been in vain without the backing of others advancing the issue from a Conversation to Reality.

This refund period will be very short-lived as the Fono meets in July and I've been informed will surely be swift in addressing this oversight by changing the current statute.

Let's Not Just Talk

“The Conversation” is designed to be an idea incubator, and a launching pad where we hear from as many great minds as possible, to collectively formulate a plan with contingencies, but then take action to make it a REALITY!

In order for changes to be made permanently, your voice as a citizen here in American Samoa must be heard!

At the very least, and as a starting point your representative at the Fono must be made aware of:

A) Your desire to be refunded what you are owed as a vehicle owner.

B) That this recognition of the statute and it's current status remain unchanged,

C) That no new taxes or fees be enacted to cover the losses of the registration fees from neither the refunds nor from using the proper registration charges per the statute.

D) Rather, use this as an opportunity to responsibly restructure Departmental spending in order to properly utilize the revised budgetary finances.

Only by working together, can we make change possible, not just in this situation, but all future topics addressed via “The Conversation”. I hope and pray this prime example will be the first of many win-win situations for the American Samoa residents. Together we can achieve greatness, and show our kids how great this place can really be. It is up to you.

Will you join this cause? Are you tired enough to take action? Will you be brave enough to participate in “The Conversation”?

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