Concerns on School Lunch supplies, fuel, and food programs prompts new commission
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — To assess the current status of food supply and make recommendations moving forward, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has appointed a new ASG Food and Water Security Commission, chaired by the Agriculture and Education department directors.
During a meeting of cabinet members and some business representatives on Wednesday, the governor also appointed a fuel commission, overseen by the American Samoa Petroleum Cooperative with support from the Office of Disaster Assistance and Petroleum Management (ODAPM).
“We expect that the two groups will make presentations” late Sunday afternoon during the cabinet briefing on measles and coronavirus so “we know what is happening, especially what we have now and how we forecast moving forward,” Lolo said.
The reports should also provide an outlook for the rest of the months under the current administration, and ensure that what’s put in place provides security for the government going forward, he continued, adding that he hopes that by early next week, ASG will take the necessary steps needed to address recommendations in the reports.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries on why Lolo moved to set up the two groups, ASG officials said yesterday that the governor is “concerned about the perceived shortages of food items on the shelves of stores, and healthcare issues — measles and now coronavirus — disrupting shipping schedules to the island.” The federally funded School Lunch Program, overseen by the Education Department, is one of the sensitive areas.
According to the officials, Lolo is also concerned with the schedule of fuel tankers coming into the island and there’s a need to ensure that there is no fuel shortage. They added that shipping schedules are impacting local efforts to prevent the spread and entry of measles and coronavirus.
“The assessment will determine the status of food inventory along with other vital resources required by the island residents,” the officials said, adding that this raises the “need for self-sufficiency in [local] agricultural products.”
The Administration has received reports that “imported bottled water is low in supply” and locally produced “Vaimalu is not producing sufficient quantities quickly enough to make up the difference,” the officials said.
FOOD AND WATER
At the Wednesday meeting, Lolo acknowledged that the current issues faced by vessels calling into Pago Pago are beyond local control. He called for assessments to be made as to where American Samoa stands on incoming vessels — both container vessels and fuel tankers. He said the food and water commission is to conduct an assessment of what’s available on island including locally grown produce and make recommendations for consideration and actions to be taken.
Lolo said the administration is looking at the possibility of imposing excise tax on imports from foreign countries, such as China, for food products such as saimin, as well as bottled water. He said it’s unclear to ASG what security measures are implemented by foreign countries, such as China, on the processing of their products.
He suggested that the commission look into such a tax, as well as American Samoa accepting products from countries — except those who’ve dealt with American Samoa for a long time — where “we are sure of their security measures” in the processing of their products.
Customs is requested to provide a report on imported food products, said Lolo, who added that they are looking at the possible ban of products from certain foreign countries such as China, or impose a specific excise tax.
The commission is also requested to check with the local producer of bottled water — referring to Vaimalu — on whether they can provide a sufficient supply and details in their report, which should include the status of the water supply provided by ASPA, as well as villages affected by the boil water notice.
Lolo said another concern at this point is a sufficient supply for the School Lunch Program, to which DOE director, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga explained that the program paid charters to send supplies for the schools in Manu’a, enough to cover 3 months. For schools on Tutuila and Aunu’u, the program’s supplies will cover two months and School Lunch is awaiting their next shipment, set to arrive on a container vessel on Mar. 22nd, she said.
Lolo requested the Office of Samoan Affairs, a member of the commission, for pulenu’u and county chiefs (fa’alupega) to encourage programs in their respective villages and counties, that involve planting taro and bananas to supplement imported food supply. He said one of the biggest concerns has to do with food products for the program administered by the Department of Human and Social Services. He said recipients are receiving large checks — $700 and even $1,000-plus.
And the recipients, who are not used to such large amounts, are unable to purchase what they want “all at the same time” using the entire amount of their benefit check. He suggested that the commission look at this issue to see, perhaps, if there is also a shortage of supplies for programs administered by DHSS. (Samoa News understands that the checks referred to by Lolo are the food stamps issued under funding for Tropical Storm Gita.)
One cabinet member suggested that the report consider the territory’s “special needs” population — infants, disabled, and the elderly. A comment from some of those in attendance, noted that because of supply shortage, some stores have hiked prices of certain food items, such as onions — which are now a $1 per, compared to the previous method of selling per pound.
Lolo requested that the commission look into the matter to ensure that businesses “don’t take advantage of our people.” (Samoa News has received similar concerns regarding onions and other fresh produce. At the same time, Samoa News has observed that some grocery stores have signs displayed, noting that the items are “air-freighted in” and therefore, cost more.)
According to the governor, the vice chairs of the commission are Commerce director Fuiavailiili Keniseli Lafaele and businessman Solip Hong. Other commission members include cabinet members, the district governors, and representatives from LBJ Medical Center and ASCC-Land Grant.
Lolo stressed the importance of inclusion of the business community — plus cannery — in this assessment, which he said should also look at the incoming vessels on their schedules.
Lolo said the fuel commission report should provide details on the current fuel supply and “if we can stand on our own” and for how long, “we can stretch” the supply, in the event of longer delays of incoming petroleum vessels.
He requested that the commission work closely with ASPA and the cannery for their fuel needs and also look at the fuel needs for the Manu’a Islands. Responding to a question from a cabinet member, Manu’a District Governor and chairman of the Petroleum Co-op, Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson said the Co-op, as part of its plans, has projections for petroleum supply as well as a schedule of incoming fuel tankers. He said a method is already in place for projections for six months and so forth.
And the Co-Op works closely with ASPA and the cannery, he said, adding that fuel shortage on island is nothing new to the territory, as we’ve been through it before.
Lolo said the report should also include a plan in the event that there is no fuel tanker for 1-2 months and what impact it will have on the fuel supply.