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Lawmakers respond after Lolo again calls for 'effective strategies' to combat drug and weapons problem

Container scanner at Port of Pago Pago.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Police carried out more than 20 drug raids last year and Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has again called for “effective strategies” to combat the flow of drugs and illegal weapons into the territory, which will host for the first time this year, the annual conference of police chiefs from the region.

These are some of the issues outlined under “Law Enforcement, Public Safety and Border Security" in the governor’s 23-page written official State of the Territory Address, presented to lawmakers last Monday during the opening of the 36th Legislature.

“The safety of our people and protecting our borders from the escalating influx of illegal substances and weapons is of great importance to all of us,” the governor pointed out.

In achieving these objectives, he said the Attorney General’s Office, along with the departments of Public Safety, local Homeland Security and Treasury “have aggressively enforced existing laws.”

According to the governor, Public Safety “has forcefully conducted raids, which have uncovered and revealed considerable amounts of drugs and a wide array of weapons, exposing the people of American Samoa to tremendous danger and creating vulnerability for our youth relating to drug use.”

Brief summary data in the governor’s written address states that over 25 raids were conducted during the year and confiscated a significant number of guns and drugs — crystal methamphetamine and marijuana — with street values of $800,000 and $130,000 - respectively.

The governor noted that the Territorial Wide Drug Coalition Commission has been established and charged with deterring drug use and stopping the rising influx of dangerous weapons and ammunitions.

The governor also touched briefly on the scanners — purchased with proceeds from the 2015 series bond — saying it “has effectively increased the detection of illegal drugs, weapons, and ammunition" entering the territory while also increasing revenue collections on the discovery of undeclared goods by “dishonest companies”.

The governor then revealed that American Samoa has raised “at the federal level, our border security challenges through the establishment of a Federal-Pacific Task Force to fashion interdiction strategies to combat the entry of illegal substances, weapons, ammunition, and the emerging symptoms of human trafficking.”

(Samoa News notes that American Samoa controls its own borders, such as Customs and Immigration.)

Lolo also revealed that this year, American Samoa will host for the first time, the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police (PICP) conference and the conference dates— as noted on the PICP website — are Aug. 21-23, 2019.

In his official address, Lolo explained it’s “imperative that we must fashion effective strategies to preempt the inflow of drugs, weapons, ammunition, and human trafficking; thus we must revisit the appropriateness and effectiveness of our existing laws along with revisiting assigned penalties to discourage involvement in these types of illegal behavior.”

Additionally, “It is necessary as well to reassert the control of Village Councils over their village inhabitants; however, a legal pathway must be established to legalize village punishments or at least empower villages to refer violators to the Attorney General for prosecution so that they continue to be an intricate element of our society.”

Tualauta Rep. Larry Sanitoa has requested a House Public Safety Committee hearing to look into the government’s strategies and plans on the problem of illegal drugs on island.

According to him, everyday, there are media reports about crimes due to illegal drugs and guns. Unfortunately, he added, it is disturbing to hear reports of government officials and workers being part of the problem.

He recalled that the scanners were installed as a deterrent to the illegal drugs and guns coming through the territory’s ports. “I have yet to see or hear reports highlighting any significant amount of illegal drugs and guns being confiscated because of these scanners,” Sanitoa later told Samoa News.

House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale agreed with Sanitoa’s request, and has the chairmen of the Public Safety as well as the Homeland Security Committees looking into the problem and setting it for a committee hearing.