Gubernatorial candidates explain how they would solicit public input
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The government soliciting public comments during a rule making process was another issue raised during the recent American Samoa Bar Association gubernatorial forum, and it comes at a time when there are so many in the community concerned over their lack of understanding of the government laws and regulations, which impact their daily lives.
“How would your administration provide access to law and what will your administration do to solicit meaningful input from the public before and during any rule making process?” was the question posed to the four gubernatorial teams.
I’AULUALO & TAPAAU
Candidate for governor, I’aulualo Talia Fa’afetai pointed out that there is a process dealing with hearings in the Fono, noting that there should be times when committee sessions extend to public hearings, to make sure the public has input into any law introduced or enacted.
His running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor, Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga focused his response on making the information available and giving the public an opportunity to participate in law making.
“We can accomplish this by televising Fono proceedings,” he said, by airing the proceedings on KVZK and also live streaming it. “This is the way the public can understand the laws.”
He echoed I’aulualo’s statement on extending Fono hearings to the public, but pointed out that not everyone can go to the Fono, especially during working hours and there is the elderly population also unable to attend Fono hearings due to limited sitting space.
Tapaau suggested extending hearings out to the community so that people who are affected by the laws have a chance to hear what’s happening. “And the legal basis for this, is Section 2 of the Constitution on Due Process [which is] the law that says ‘you have to give people a chance to hear what’s going on’.”
“To take it a step further, there’s the Citizen initiated laws — the public and the people have a right to petition the government when they feel, they have been wronged,” he explained. “Citizen initiated law is something to consider. And it will be a great dialogue for all the candidates here.”
LEMANU & TALAUEGA
Candidate for lieutenant governor, Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale said one of the ways to provide public access to records and laws is by digitizing them. He recalled his tenure as attorney general, where the AG’s Office worked on getting records digitized and making them available to the public. And this was accomplished through federal funding digitizing immigration and Territorial Registrar’s records.
“And it took us many years to get this funding but we have it now,” he said and cited another similar project which he worked on with other local attorneys that received federal funding as well.
“These are the types of out-of-the box thinking that Lemanu and I bring to provide access to the people. They should know where the laws are, court cases — they need to be published, digitizes and made available to our lawyers. I feel bad for our lawyers. We have no access to a lot of cases, opinions by the court,” he said.
And he agrees with I’aulualo and Tapaau about broadcasting Fono sessions but not just the Fono. He explained that when the ASG Zoning Board meets, there’s a lot of important issues discussed.
But, he said, nobody knows about Zoning meetings, “but if we don’t know about it, the next thing we know, somebody builds a house right in front of the road and we have to deal with all of the problems after that.”
He also said that the Lolo and Lemanu administration broadcast their cabinet meetings on TV where people can see what the governor and his cabinet are doing.
“I think the Fono should do the same. I think every Zoning meeting, issues about rule making, should be on TV or streamed live so people can see who is actually working for our government,” he concluded.
NUA & SATELE
“The Nua and Satele team strongly believes that public input is important and needful. In order for us to have a government of transparency, we need for people to have access to law,” declared candidate for lieutenant governor Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr.
“And the Fono is one of the most ideal places for the public to voice… their thoughts and opinions on a proposed bill prior to being passed and signed into law,” he said but quickly pointed out that not everybody has an opportunity to go to the Fono and listen in.
Regarding the suggestion to broadcast the Fono proceedings, he said this used to be how it was. And people sat at home and listened to their lawmakers voice their opinions on laws and certain things that impact them.
He promised that the Nua and Satele team will seek public input, which is “important for us”, so that “we understand... their concerns.”
When walking the villages, he and Nua asked people what is it that they are concerned about the most. “And they say they don’t understand what’s happening in government,” he said adding that the public should have access to what is happening in government and getting their input is important.
“But in order for us to do that, we need to be able to make available those laws and access through social media — which is one of the biggest way for us to get that message out,” he said. “We need to be able to continue to have town hall meetings or public hearings. We need to be able to have public or community announcements.”
Tapumanaia said he served as chairman of the Zoning Board for a little while and one of the things that he learned is that a lot of people don’t understand what the Zoning Board does.
“And because they don’t understand, they, all of a sudden see something happening in their backyard, or next to them, or they see something going up in their area. And not knowing that they have a voice, they can say something. They just have to understand where and when, and how to do that procedure,” he explained.
“So for Nua and Satele, we believe that it is important that we seek your input, we want to make sure [you know about] potential laws that affect you, and we want you to know that we are sincere when we say, ‘we will listen’,” he told the audience.
GAOTEOTE & FAI’IVAE
Candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet says he shares the views voiced by other candidates.
“But I believe that this is the role of the Lieutenant Governor, who is the Secretary of American Samoa — establish a commission to review laws, work together with village councils and district governors, the Fono and others, to come up with rules and publish them so that the public has a better understanding,” he sad.
Candidate for governor, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau said that if elected, he will instruct his lieutenant governor to make sure to explain to the public the laws and there should also be a commission to review and reaffirm laws as well as providing a full explanation to the public so the community understands.