No dispute among gubernatorial candidates —our drug problem is serious
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The four gubernatorial teams vying in the Nov. 3rd general election all acknowledge the seriousness of the drug problem in American Samoa and some candidates advocate — among other things — treatment and rehabilitation for drug addicts.
The teams were asked during the recent American Samoa Bar Association gubernatorial forum — “Everyday with alarming frequency we hear or read about illegal drugs in the territory. What will your administration do to deal with the endemic drug problem in American Samoa?”
GAOTEOTE & FAI’IVAE
Candidate for governor, Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau said there’s a rise in illegal drugs entering the territory but he observed that it’s not being addressed as a priority issue.
And he knows this because there are a lot of rumors posted on Facebook about people bringing illegal drugs into the territory but no one is arrested. He testified at the forum to the importance of stopping the importation of illegal drugs and going after those who manufacture them, in order to protect the youth.
He said he heard reports of a couple who arrived off a flight and brought with them “ice” - crystal meth. And he hears that it’s the “man Gaoteote and wife” who were found with the drugs. The question, he asked is — why are Gaoteote and his wife not arrested as “nobody is above the law.”
He said the reason is because these are all rumors and not true — about him and his wife. Gaoteote said he is thankful for these stories so that he has the opportunity to address them, to let people know they are made up stories and untrue.
The drug problem on island, he says, is spreading fast like the coronavirus. Gaoteote said the special unit under the Attorney General’s Office should be activated to fight the drug problem.
Additionally, more training and even off island education for police, customs, and homeland security so they can go after drug importers and “sellers as well”.
I’AULUALO & TAPAAU
Candidate for governor, I’aulualo Talia Fa’afetai said “if elected, we’re going to reform the local law enforcement, that includes police service. We will enact a law to make sure that Customs becomes a full law enforcement entity so that they have the authority to process a person caught bringing in drugs.”
Current protocol is that when Customs identifies a possible suspect, they have to wait until police show up. “We’re going to enact a law, to make sure Customs is one of the full law enforcement agencies of the government,” he said and will also ask for the federal government to assist with enforcement. “We will not take it lightly.”
I’aulualo’s running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor, Tapaau Dr. Dan Mageo Aga, addressed the issue of treatment and education.
“We need to consolidate funding that’s available to American Samoa so the funding can go to the people who need it the most,” he explained. “We can’t take on band aide solutions to this serious problem and we have to rely on experts, like clinical psychologists to make those kinds of decisions.”
He declared, “We need a rehabilitation center” and pointed out that, “you can punish those who break the law but you can’t punish the disease. That’s why we need a rehabilitation center that would allow drug addicts to transition” to a better life and not go back to the old life.
“And again, we need to teach drug education in the schools. We have to stop ignoring that this is something that can be integrated into the school curriculum,” he said. “That way we can give our young people the tools they need to say ‘no to drugs’.”
LEMANU & TALAUEGA
Just like their approach to domestic violence, Lemanu and Talauega’s approach “to the drug problem is not to manage it — we want to eliminate it,” said candidate for lieutenant governor, Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale. “And we believe the people of American Samoa can do it.”
He went on to explain the team’s “five-prong approach” tackling this problem — such as education, and public awareness. “Talk about drugs and the evils and problems with drugs at school. Teach them at a young age... empower our young people to speak up and say ‘no to drugs’,” he said and pointed to community awareness programs at churches, villages, and village matai meetings.
The second prong deals with enforcement, providing the tools to police officers, Customs, Immigration officers who “deal with our borders to make sure they can detect and assist law enforcement with catching these guys,” he explained.
As part of enforcement, he said there’s a need to forge stronger relationships with federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as international and regional organizations in the Pacific “so that we can collaborate and share ideas on how to catch and prosecute, and put these people away.”
“Drugs are not a problem that just start in one locale. It’s an international problem. We’re just one stop in that,” he said, noting that the third approach or prong for the team, is in “our health platform — we propose the creation of a facility for drug addiction. We agree that drug addiction is an illness and we have to treat it, just like any other illness.
The fourth part of the team’s approach to address the drug problem is “adjudication” — looking at the laws about sentencing, especially drug dealers. “We need to make sure that drug business is not an economically feasible business for anybody who’s thinking about doing it.”
“We need longer mandatory jail terms and also fines. We also need to have laws for forfeiture — take all the possessions of that person,” he said.
And the fifth prong, “Economic development,” he said. “If we have a growing economy with people having options to get a legal business, they don’t need drugs in their lives.”
NUA & SATELE
Candidate for governor, Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga T. Nua pointed out that years ago, the government and people had managed to keep the drug problem in American Samoa under control but about 10 years ago, the drug problem became prevalent and continues today.
He recalled that in 2015 he sponsored legislation to test all ASG workers. “Why?” he asked and answered, Because the “disease” has spread fast and is becoming a serious social issue.
He said the solution is to educate and train locals who are well qualified to work in agencies such as customs, immigration and quarantine division of Agriculture that can detect increased imported illegal drugs and stop it.
He also called for a rehab center to treat drug users saying that all the government is doing now is jailing drug users. He asked if what good has come out of this government practice and he answered, “nothing”.