Pacific News Briefs

compiled by Samoa News staff

AMATA WELCOMES $67,000 DOT GRANT FOR AMERICAN SAMOA HOMELAND SECURITY

Washington, D.C. – Friday, OCT. 6, 2017 - Congresswoman Aumua Amata was pleased to welcome a $67,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for the American Samoa Government for hazardous materials safety.

“American Samoans greatly appreciate our first responders, and all they do to be ready in time of need,” Aumua Amata said. “I welcome this funding for the preparation and safety of emergency personnel and the people they serve in any potential crisis.”

Specifically, this $67,148 Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) Grant from the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is designated for the American Samoa Department of Homeland Security.

The grant funds efforts to enhance their ability to respond to hazardous materials transportation incidents. This includes assisting in performing hazardous materials response duties and aiding in the development, implementation, and improvement of emergency plans and training for local communities. The HMEP grant program allows flexibility for the differing needs of each location. The funds can be used in developing or revising emergency plans and training activities to account for bulk transportation of energy products, studies regarding hazmat shipments, and training emergency responders to respond appropriately to hazmat and other incidents.

“I appreciate the DOT’s recognition of the need to include American Samoa in this effort,” Congresswoman Amata continued. “Congratulations especially to the program manager, Alexander V. Tali, along with Director Samana Semo Ve'ave'a and everyone else at the Department involved in this grant.”

(Source: Congresswoman Aumua Amata's Office, Washington, DC)

SAMOA TAKES IMPORTANT STEPS TO BECOMING E-COMMERCE READY

The Pacific Island nation of Samoa has made considerable progress in recent years in getting businesses and consumers online but still faces challenges before being fully ready to benefit from e-commerce, an UNCTAD assessment of the country published today says.

Made up of eight islands sitting halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, the country's isolation fuels high import prices and creates challenges for Samoan entrepreneurs to access global markets and grow their businesses.

By giving exporters direct access to potential clients around the globe and allowing Samoan consumers and businesses to find the best deals for what they import, e-commerce could help the country overcome its geographical disadvantages, the report says.

"As is the case for most small island developing states and especially in the Pacific," the assessment says, "trade logistics constraints remain a key bottleneck for Samoa."

Air transport is the most expensive way to ship goods, yet because most goods Samoans buy and sell online are small parcels, Faleolo International Airport is currently the main entry and exit point. And this takes a toll on businesses' profits and consumers' wallets.

Better port facilities and increased transportation options would make e-commerce less expensive, the assessment says, adding that the lack of a postal addressing system also limits the scope of e-commerce in Samoa.

Government reforms bringing more competition and better regulation to the telecommunications sector have made mobile phones an everyday reality for most of the population. But Internet connections are still unreliable and expensive, keeping more than two thirds of the population offline.

A monthly 2GB ADSL subscription was US$43 in 2015, and a prepaid 3GB data plan for a mobile was US$40, in a country where minimum-wage workers earn just over US$2 an hour.

The government hopes that the arrival of a 1,3000-kilometre submarine cable connecting Samoa to Fiji's Southern Cross Cable will boost connectivity and affordability. But the assessment has shown that improved infrastructure alone will not make the island nation e-commerce-ready.

Even if the population is better connected, e-commerce cannot take off if the majority of the population does not have a bank account or credit card and remains skeptical of mobile payment solutions.

"Samoans remain largely unbanked," the report says, adding that only around half the adult population has a bank account or access to other formal services such as credit unions and microfinance.

And cultural beliefs in the value of cash and a general reluctance to trust mobile payments -- only 3.7% of mobile phone owners have a mobile money account -- are preventing online businesses such as Samoamarket and Makeki Online from boosting sales despite increased traffic to their websites.

One of the reasons Samoans seem reluctant to trust online payments, the report says, is an incomplete and at times outdated legal framework.

The top concern, according to the assessement, is consumer protection online, particularly data protection and privacy, for which Samoa has no legislation.

The assessment calls for a thorough review of Samoa's legal framework, despite being one of the most advanced in the region according to UNCTAD's Cyberlaw Tracker.

"While the framework is in place, it seldom covers specific e-commerce aspects," says Cécile Barayre, an UNCTAD legal officer who worked on the assessment.

"One specific challenge is the contradicting and overlapping regulations adopted by different ministries and government agencies," she adds.

But even if more Samoans are connected to the Internet and trust online payment, if they are uninformed of the opportunities e-commerce offers and lack the necessary technological skills, online sales will continue to drag.

"The lack of understanding and awareness of what e-commerce is and how to benefit from it has been a common thread throughout the assessment period," the report says, adding that assistance could focus on small and medium businesses owned by women since current e-commerce facilities are more accessible by well-established male-owned businesses.

The ability to make trade more inclusive and offer opportunities to women and youth -- two segments of the population often left out -- is what makes e-commerce a game changer, says Mere Falemaka, Permanent Representative of the Pacific Islands Forum to the World Trade Organization.

Through the assessment, the government has realized that e-commerce is about more than ICT infrastructure, transport and regulation, and that it requires investment in soft infrastructure and skills, and a thorough, encompassing national e-commerce strategy.

"UNCTAD's e-trade readiness assessments are a first step for Pacific Island countries to develop a coherent national e-commerce policy," Ms. Falemaka says.

The government of Samoa is committed to take advantage of e-commerce, the report says. And with the right vision and concerted efforts to remove persistent bottlenecks, Samoa could become an e-commerce hub for the region.

The Samoa Rapid e-Trade Readiness Assessment, funded by the Enhanced Integrated Framework, a multi-donor programme for least developed countries, is the third such assessment UNCTAD has done.

It was carried out following a regional workshop on e-commerce in June this year that UNCTAD and the World Trade Organization held with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

The assessment was presented today at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-Commerce and the Digital Economy, convening in Geneva from Wednesday to Friday.

The group of experts offers a valuable platform to ensure effective follow-up, which will require development partners that are part of the group to provide timely financial and technical assistance to Samoa.

The previous e-Trade Readiness Assessments were for Bhutan and Cambodia. Next up are the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

(Source: MPMC)

NOT VIABLE, GOVERNOR DISMISSES CURRENCY CALL

Changing the effigy or figure head on the Samoan currency is not financially feasible.  

So said the Governor of Central Bank, Maiava Atalina Ainuu-Enari, in response to questions from the Sunday Samoan. 

The Governor was asked for a comment following calls from members of the public who wonder when the Central Bank would consider a new currency with the new Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, on it.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi referred questions to the Governor of the Central Bank.

During an interview with the Sunday Samoan, the Governor said the process takes about four years maximum to print new money. 

“And while the decision to change the currency is at the Cabinet’s discretion, I will explain the process for public knowledge,” she said.  

“We order our currency from a company called DelaRue, a banknote manufacturer." 

“It’s a global company located in the United Kingdom who first started printing high security notes in the 1800’s." 

“They sell high-security paper and their deliverance of high security and integrity to the Cash Supply Chain is notable.” 

Maiava then explained the process. 

“I must say that it is a meticulous process." 

“It takes up between three and four years before we can actually print new currency.  ‘That is how lengthy it takes and this is because of the security measures placed on the note.'" 

“It’s not something we do overnight,” Maiava said. 

“So it starts from the designing, and by law we have to do consultation with the uses of the currency which is our people." 

“We also have to consult with the banks because there were times that our currency was unable to use in the A.T.M. (automated teller machine)." 

“The A.T.M.  won’t accept the new currency because of some configuration and so what happens is the banks have had to replace all their A.T.Ms and that is costly to the commercial banks." 

“We consult with the commercial banks on the size of the currency that is acceptable to the A.T.M's,” she said. 

She said different countries had difference currencies in terms of sizes. 

“These are some of the steps we have to take to assure that when the currency arrives there are no problems." 

“Makes it difficult that Delarue is located on the other side of the world and we are here in the Pacific.” 

“We go through the designs and the correspondence goes back and forth on the changes and most especially the security measures.” 

“Once the design and everything else is ok, then it goes onto the plate.” 

‘This is the tricky part, once it’s on the plate it cannot be changed, that is why the process is very lengthy and again meticulous.” 

According to the Governor, even ordering the coin is another process. 

“Our coin is minted from Royal Australia Mint but the paper money comes from Delarue in U.K. Many Pacific islands Fiji, Tonga, and Solomon islands all print their money from Delarue,” she said. 

She said the current currency was launched back in 2007 and this money will be circulating for about 10 years. 

“And until we have issues in terms of security where a security feature is compromised on the note then we will have to change our currency.” 

“We try to use the notes we currently have for a lengthy time due to the high cost, for us as a small nation,” she said. 

“There were really no changes of notes at the time when the Late Malietoa Tanumafili II, because his tenure was for life and so that is why his photo was on the notes and the coin,” she said. 

In conclusion, the Governor pointed out the main recommendation from Delarue was go “fauna and flora”. 

“They have suggested for us to consider putting our national flower or national bird to represent Samoa, and so there won’t be many changes, because changes come at a cost,” said the Governor.  

(Source: Samoa Observer)

IMMIGRATION CHIEF DENIES CLAIM

The Head of Samoa Immigration, Agafili Shem Leo, has rejected claims that his Office had been notified about the alleged sale of Samoan passports online earlier this year.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet in response to questions from the Sunday Samoan rubbished claims his office was informed as early as May.

“These allegations were not reported to me as Head of the Ministry back in May,” he told the Sunday Samoan in an email.

“It only came to my attention when my Press and Communications Division forwarded an email inquiring about this matter when I was on duty travel on September 22nd 2017. 

“Swift action was immediately taken against these allegations upon my return to Samoa on the 25th September in accordance with the law. This had led to the investigation that is currently on going.”

But a reliable source said the Immigration office might have been alerted to the situation at the beginning of 2017.

The source said the information, however, was relayed senior Immigration officials until the matter was queried by the Samoa Observer.

“The complaint came to the office in May, 2017 yet the officials were only informed when Samoa Observer sent over an email containing copies of the passport that was (allegedly) sold online,” the source said. 

“Up until now, I don’t know why this was not reported in the first place and yet this is a serious issue.”

Last week, Attorney General, Lemalu Herman Retzlaff, issued a ‘prohibition order’ against two suspects in connection with the alleged sale of Samoan passports online. 

The order against Immigration employee, David Nomereta Uaine and a member of the public, Fitu Goshe, prohibits them from leaving the country while the investigation is in progress. 

A copy of the ‘prohibition order’ obtained by the Samoa Observer was issued on Tuesday and signed by the Attorney General. 

The order was addressed to the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Samoa Immigration, Agafili Shem Leo. 

The alleged sale of passports was put to the attention of the Immigration Office by the Samoa Observer, which led to the government launching their investigation into the allegations that someone is “selling Samoan passports” online.

This was confirmed in a press statement issued by the Press Secretary.

 “As required under the Passport Act and the Public Service Act, the Immigration division of the Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has begun an investigation in to allegations of a potential breach of the Passport Act,” the statement reads.  

 “This is in relation to reports received by the Ministry last week that passports have been illegally procured."  

 “The Ministry takes any allegation seriously and wishes to assure the public that security of our passports remains intact.  Relevant action in accordance with the law will be taken upon completion of the investigation."  

 “The Immigration Office will continue to monitor, review and improve processes to ensure the safety and security of Samoa.”

The statement did not say how long the investigation will take and what exactly they are after.

(Source: Samoa Observer)

FRENCH POLYNESIA NUCLEAR COMPO FIGHT TO GO TO HUMAN RIGHTS COURT

French Polynesia's social welfare agency is set to go to the European Court of Human Rights over payments for victims of France's nuclear weapons tests.

It followed a French court ruling which upheld a French government decision not to compensate the agency in Tahiti after it paid for the care of a victim.

The court rejected the compensation claim by stating that the French state was not liable because there was no proof that the state was directly responsible for the damage.

The expert advice to the court had earlier pointed out that the French compensation commission attributed payments to victims out of national solidarity and not because the state recognised any liability.

It argued that as a service provider the Tahitian agency could only get compensated if it could prove the state's responsibility.

Radio1 in Tahiti said after the rejection the social welfare agency's board has now decided to lodge the case with the European Court of Human Rights.

In July, the French government announced all rejected compensation claims would be reconsidered including one lodged by the agency for money it had disbursed to a victim.

In a reaction to the court ruling, the National Front accused the France's ruling En Marche party of hiding behind legal quibbles.

In reply, En Marche accused the National Front of missing the chance to be quiet, saying it was a constitutional question about the separation of power between the executive and the judiciary.

(Source: RNZ)

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