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Governor extolls \Open Government\ newsletter, calling media \one- sided\

Gov. Togiola Tulafono has again accused the local news media of reporting only bad things happening with government and their employees, but not the good stories about ASG departments and offices.

He said it's a fact that this has happened many times and the reason the government first launched the Tapuitea newsletter was to provide the right information for the community.

Taupitea, the ASG newsletter, was first launched more than two years ago, and was previously overseen by the Governor’s Office, but has since been transferred to the Information Technology Department.

Togiola was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Open Government Initiative ceremony at the Executive Office Building in Utulei where newsletter was relaunched with feature stories.

“Open Government is about sharing with our people what we do, not the other way around,” said Togiola during the ceremony which was taped and aired Wednesday evening on government run KVZK-TV.

Togiola then proceeded to address the audience in Samoan, saying that one of the issues that effects this political and campaign season needed to be addressed at this time.

He said, as he listened to candidates running for public office and some of the promises being made, the governor said he feels sorry for these candidates, who do not fully understand what is going on in the government at all.

Togiola said the promises by some of the candidates of what should be done and what they will do if elected to office, makes it appear that these are new issues — but that's not true — for the fact that these issues already have in place solutions implemented by government.

The governor however, didn’t specify any candidates or campaign promises he was referencing.

Togiola says he thought about it and asked himself why some of these candidates are not aware of these solutions. So he thought that he is at fault, because most of the time, these developments and achievements in government are not shared with the public.

He said this is the reason why cabinet directors are required to provide weekly reports, which outline what departments and offices are doing, and such information is shared with the community. Also to be blamed, said Togiola, are directors — especially directors who do not want to submit their weekly reports.

Togiola said the government cannot brief the public on weekly work and performance by all ASG agencies, without reports submitted to the governor’s office.

This is the reason Tapuitea was initially launched, he said, so that government information is shared with the public, because the story told by the news media about the government is one-sided.

Whether it's radio news, or the newspaper, they always report only the bad things, Togiola said, adding that it’s only when a government employee does something wrong that it becomes a “headline” in the newspaper — but good things are not reported. He said this has always been the pattern by the news media — both radio and newspaper.

“Open government” tells the public what the government is doing and therefore was the reason for the weekly reports by directors and Tapuitea, he said.

During this campaign season, the information put out by some of the candidates has saddened him, said the governor, who says he is particularly saddened that some statements affect the hard working ASG workforce, who are not praised for their work and what they have implemented and put in place to assist the territory.

Togiola said there is only one candidate-team who is fully aware of these achievements and accomplishments of the government already in place. However, the governor said he wouldn’t identify that team, or his speech will be used by others as a political campaign speech — which it is not.

Speaking in English, the governor reiterated the goal of the “Open Government Initiative”  and the role of the Tapuitea — “so that we can tell the government’s story, so that all the good things you’re doing, in your departments and your offices is told.”

“Our media does not highlight your stories,” he told the audience that included ASG cabinet members, officials and workers. “They only tell the stories of the bad things that government employees do. And when you do, you have the headlines, for sure. And that’s always been the case.

“So the idea of a government newsletter was so that the greatness and the excellence that you do in your departments is the story… told and made known,”Togiols said. “Open government means sharing what we’re doing for the people with the people. There’s no other way around it.”

“And although it sounds like something that we just stood up for, because of the President Obama initiative [in 2009] for open government, this has been the philosophy standing up in our own newsletter,” he said.

 “We need our people to know and understand what you’re doing. It’s not about anything else. It’s only about sharing with our people what we’re doing for them.”

According to the governor, open government “avoids misunderstanding” and helps people understand their rights and the fact that the government is protecting their assets and the things that ASG needs to do for them.

Additionally, it tells the public the kinds of services available from the government, Togiola said, and noted that the Tapuitea will continue to tell the story of ASG departments and offices, and what government employees do for their people.

The governor then announced that the Tapuitea has since been transferred to the IT department, whose staff is now doing a better job on the newsletter.

He said one of the good features of the new Tapuitea is that it’s “featuring a department, a community person”. He congratulated IT department director Easter Bruce and her staff for coming up with the “great idea”.

Back to speaking in Samoan, the governor said that the better the public understands, the less they complain about the government and its service. He also urged all cabinet members to continue to submit their weekly reports, so that information can be shared with the public. He said when there are no reports, that means that department is not doing anything.

Of interest, the FY 2013 budget document listed the IT department as a separate department with its own budget, however the Fono put the department back under the governor’s office. Further as it stands, the FY 2013 budget, without the supplemental budget passed does not allocate any funding to the IT department.