Senate bill seeks to establish a deadline for when a senator must be selected by their county
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A Senate bill amending “the selection process of Senators to establish a deadline by which each respective county must determine their candidate no later than the first day of October on each election year, and to mandate that all Senators submit their qualification credentials to the Senate committee for verification before they are sworn in,” was discussed in a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee yesterday morning.
Testifying were Manu’a District Governor Misaalefua J. Hudson, Chief Election Officer Uiagalelei Lealofi and Attorney General Fainuulelei Falefatu Alailima-Utu. All three supported the bill.
Misaalefua supported the bill saying that Samoans have been enjoying the freedom that is protected in the Constitution that was put together with the “wisdom and foresight of our forefathers,” and he advised the lawmakers to stay on that path, unless there was a pressing problem that would jeopardize that freedom.
Uiagalelei pointed out that the American Samoa Government is unique among all the US territories in the selection of its Senators and it is the culture that binds and strengthens the ties between our people. He suggested that the selection be done after the elections in November.
Fainuulelei commented on the language of the bill saying that the proposed amendment of “no later than the first day of October on each election year,” was not in the Constitution and that the selection of members of both chambers which is done by popular vote in the United States was in November.
He also supported the other amendments regarding the qualification credentials of Senators to be submitted to the Senate committee.
Vice Chair Malaepule Saite Molliga who sat in for Chairman Magalei Logovi’i explained that since the selection process was done according to the traditional Samoan matai system protocols and not by popular vote as is done in the US states and territories, the main purpose of the bill was to make sure that the selection process went smoothly and to eliminate problems which arose in past election years.
He was referring to past years when some districts could not come to a consensus on which candidate to appoint as their representative in the Senate.
“One district was not represented in the Senate for a whole year because of the differences in opinions,” he recalled. “There were also some Senators who were sworn in while their titles were not registered.”
Senator Satele Aliitai Lili’o expressed his support for the bill but moved that the phrase, “the first day of October” be amended to a later date after the elections.
He reasoned that some of the unsuccessful candidates in the elections are normally selected by their districts to represent them in the Senate as a token of respect.
According to the Preamble of the bill, “under the Revised Constitution of American Samoa the Senate is comprised of traditional chiefs that are chosen according to Samoan custom. A majority rule among the members of the county council determine the Senate candidate which is a process practiced for the preservation of the land and culture.
Furthermore, “for a more orderly process, there should be an established deadline on the first day of October of each general election year for the appointment of Senators from each respective country.
“In doing so, it will allow for the proper announcement of the new Senate candidates together with the newly elected Government officials on Election Day.
“In order to preserve the integrity of the senate selection process, the Senate candidates will be mandated to submit their qualification credentials to the Senate committee for validation before they are sworn in for duty.”
In deliberations after the hearing yesterday morning, Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean moved that the date be amended to the Tuesday of the first week of December on each election year.
Consequently, Section 1 2.0203 is amended to read;
Election-Certification of results.
(a) Senators must be elected in accordance with Samoan custom by the county councils of the counties they are to represent. The decision of the members of the county councils must be certified by the county chiefs of such counties no later than the Tuesday of the first week of December on each general election year.
(b) Senators are mandated to present to the Senate committee the following documents for the certification process per Article II, Sec 3 of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa prior to swearing in:
(1) A birth certificate verifying their US National or US Citizen status and age requirement.
(2) A certificate of Registered Matai Title verifying matai title and proof of residency.
Senate members voted unanimously to approve the amendments.