A surprise amendment looks to allow Swains representative a voting seat
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Constitutional Convention last week approved the right for the Swains Island Representative to vote in the legislature — with 73 yeses and 43 nays.
This proposed amendment was not submitted by the Constitutional Review Committee and was not part of the eight amendments that were proposed, but former Governor Togiola TA Tulafono made a motion to include this specific amendment for approval citing it is time the Swains Island Representative should be given the right to vote in the fono.
Enough are the times where the Swains Island Representative is just an observer, this was the motion by Senator Togiola TA Tulafono, which was seconded.
Chairman of the Convention, Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean said this is a delicate issue and cited that this is a similar issue with American Samoa’s Congresswoman, Uifaatali Amata who chairs committees in the US Congress, but is unable to vote on the floor.
High Chief Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua, said the issue of Swains is an important issue and looking back it’s been 70 years since the Swains Island Representative has served in the Legislature yet has not been given the right to vote in the Legislative Assembly.
“If we can answer my question, why is it that the Swains Island Representative is not allowed to vote, why can’t we give the Swains Island Representative the voting rights.
“They don’t have a Senate seat, but they were given a seat in the House of Representatives, yet they cannot vote. They are our brothers and sisters, similar to how we accord our people in Tutuila and Manu’a and we cannot compare this issue to the US,” said former Senator Nuanuaolefeagaiga.
High Chief I’aulualo Faafetai said while there are no people living on Swains Island, they are a part of this government.
“I support this proposed amendment. We cannot compare the Swains Island Representative to our Congresswoman, and if there is a way we can assure she has voting rights in the US Congress we will explore it,” said I’aulualo.
Secretary of Samoan Affairs, Mauga Tasi Asuega also supported the motion for Swains vote and commended Togiola for bringing up this vital issue for submitting this amendment.
Director of the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, Taotasi Archie Soliai said while he supports the motion, there are concerns.
He pointed to the proposed amendment, which talks about the adult permanent residents of Swains Island.
“And under section three it says that he shall be a bonafide resident of Swains and I am compassionate for those from Swains, but if we look at approving this amendments then we should also consider changing the definitions, as this may raise legal challenges in the future,” he said.
Another issue pointed out by Taotasi is how the Swains Island Representative is appointed.
“The representative is not elected, rather [he is] selected by the people of Swains and this is also a concern,” said Taotasi.
Senator Tuiagamoa Tavai also took the floor and urged the Constitutional Convention to put this matter to a vote and approve it.
Tuaolo took the floor and said: “I would think that the Constitutional Convention would be more concerned about our Congresswoman getting her right to vote in the US Congress.
“Not to say that we don’t want to give Swains the right to vote, but the Swains Island Representative is entitled to everything afforded for lawmakers, but the right to vote, not to say that I don’t’ want to give them a vote,” reiterated Tuaolo.
Togiola took the floor and said the inability of the Congresswoman to vote is the choice of the American Samoan people in order to remain an unincorporated possession.
“The unincorporated possession status we are currently under is the major issue here as American Samoa is not a fully fledged US Territory as we have not been incorporated into the United States,” he explained.
“And that is not the case for Swains Island, they are part of the US territory of American Samoa.
As I’aulualo indicated, Swains Island plays a huge role in our exclusive economic zone as (EEZ) that starts from Swains Island extending another 200 miles,” said Togiola. Speaker of the House, Savali Talavou Ale said this issue is quite delicate and it’s evident there should be more research conducted to fully prepare this matter to be adjudicated.
“But in the meantime, I propose an amendment that will allow the Swains Island Representative to vote only when there is a tie in the votes for the House of Representative,” proposed Savali.
Adding that the Swains Island Representative should undergo the same process to be elected a House of Representative, given the current process is that their rep is “selected not elected”.