Political status, to elect the AG or not — questions tackled by gubernatorial candidates
A plan for American Samoa’s future political status and whether or not to elect the territory’s Attorney General, are among the more than ten questions asked of the candidates for governor during last Thursday’s gubernatorial forum hosted by the American Samoa Bar Association.
The political status issue has been talked about over the years and has become a more prominent issue over the past several months when Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga called for more discussions as well as an education awareness program.
On the issue as of whether or not to elect the Attorney General, it has also surfaced in past years including at least three bills introduced in the Fono but none of those bills ever made it out of committee and therefore were automatically defeated. One of the prominent reasons for the call to elect the AG is to ensure that his decisions are independent of the government and he answers to the public.
Candidate for governor Tuika Tuika was the first to respond, saying he doesn’t think, “we have any problem” with the current political status. “This is a very small island, very small population. The problem that we have is within our government, we need to get rid of corruption,” he alleges.
He also said, “Poor people are funding this government” and then alleges that “people... holding high positions, having power, are stealing from this government.”
“The current political status is good. We can’t change it just for the sake of it,” he said. “We first must get rid of corruption or else we cannot do anything.” Additionally, a change of political status is the ‘people’s decision’.”
Candidate for governor, Faoa Aitofele Sunia said, “I won’t want to have a political status change. There is nothing in the future that I can relate to or talk about, like there is another political status out there somewhere, that we need to reach out to.”
“I think we’re very safe the way we are right now. People are well taken care of. The fact that it’s greener on the other side is very risky and I don’t want to be a leader at the time when we change to something that we’re unsure of,” he said.
He claims that some people believe that American Samoa needs to have a treaty with the United States instead of the Deeds of Cession to “have more rights. I don’t know exactly what that means. I think we have a lot of rights right now and we’re doing very well with our relationship with the United States, the way we are as an incorporated and unorganized territory.”
The former lieutenant governor said he doesn’t foresee changing the current political status “in the foreseeable future. Not in my life time, I hope not.”
In his reply, the incumbent, Gov. Lolo noted, “one of the biggest challenges our people is facing is the lack of understanding of our political status. Everybody I ask for the last many years, it’s either they don’t understand or they need to learn more.”
To address this issue, the Lolo Administration requested and received about $500,000 from the US Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs “so we can at least have a program where we can reach out to our people and provide opportunities for our young people to understand. Ultimately, the decision to our political status will be made by the young people.”
The program is through the Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations — which are part of the Governor’s Office — and its director is Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga.
Lolo said the program’s purpose is to set up an outreach program that young people can ask questions “and for that office to provide what options are available out there so our people can choose our political status.”
“The biggest challenge today for us is to educate our young people so they can make decisions going forward as far as our political status. We’ve been very successful,” the incumbent said, adding that it’s important to “educate our young people and our people in general as to what options are for our people in terms of deciding what political status our people should go for in the future.”
ELECT ATTORNEY GENERAL OR NOT
Responding to the question, Faoa said the Attorney General works very closely with the governor and he prefers the current status quo. He suggested having a post of a prosecutor, who would be elected.
“The prosecutor will not answer to the governor [and] he would be more unbiased and more independent,” said Faoa, an attorney, “but have the attorney general do his functions as the top legal mind for the governor and work side-by-side with the governor.”
For Lolo, he reminded the audience that American Samoa had adopted the federal framework of government. For example, the US attorney general is appointed by the US President and confirmed by the US Senate for a nation with millions of people, compared to American Samoa’s population of over 55,000.
“Not only we don’t have the money to elect the Attorney General but it only make sense that a small government like ours, we keep and retain the status we are doing today — the attorney general appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature,” he said, adding that “we’ve got to make sense in our decision and what we decide to do.”
“So election of the attorney general — I don’t think this is the right time to do it,” Lolo stressed.
Responding to the question, Tuika said, “I’d rather have the attorney general appointed by the Secretary of Interior,” adding that “there’s no check and balance between the three branches of our government right now. And …the governor controls the Attorney General.”
He said he does not believe in electing the Attorney General because that individual “will do favors to get elected again. I think the best decision, is to have [the AG] appointed by the Secretary of Interior so that the federal can watch him and he can do the job in accordance with the law.”