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Swains Island rep asks for the island’s fair share of federal funding

Su’a Alexander Eli Jennings

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Swains Delegate to the American Samoa House of Representative, Su’a Alexander Eli Jennings has written to leaders of the American Samoa Government (ASG) and the Fono requesting assistance for the people of Swains from the American Rescue Act funding.

Copies of the letter were sent to Gov. Lemanu Peleti S. Mauga; Senate President, Tuaolo M. Fruean and House Speaker, Savali Talavou Ale.

Su’a said that he was informed by the American Rescue Plan coordinator that Swains island does not qualify for any of the American Rescue Act Funding.

“So out of the estimated $1.4 billion slated for American Samoa, Swains may receive $3,000,” Su’a said.

According to Su’a, Swains island first became a Territory of the United State in August 1856 under the Guano Act and went on to be very prosperous in the copra trade. Then at the request of the U.S Navy and the U.S State Department, along with the support of President Calvin Coolidge, Swains island was made a part of American Samoa by an Act of Congress in May 1925.

“Swains island immediately contributed to the newly formed government with tax revenues from the copra and became a greater economic factor by bringing in over 200 miles (or several hundred thousand square miles) of ocean to the U.S Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that has fed the canneries for nearly 70 years,” Su’a said.

The collapse of the copra industry in the 1960s not only devastated Swains island’s economy but it exposed the destructive force of its political status as part of American Samoa — incapacitating a U.S territory to near annihilation.

Secondly, the Tuna Industry continues to show evidence of decline and an unsustainable future.

“Despite our contribution to the American Samoa economy for nearly 100 years, as well as the dedication of many of our men and women who served honorably and sacrificed their lives in the United State Armed Forces, Swains island received no compensation for the depletion of its ocean resources, and no assistance for basic human needs to sustain life,” Su’a said.

According to Su’a, they are unable to live on their land and have no resources to combat the effects of Climate Change that is impacting every island in the Pacific. There are no resources to protect against illegal entry by foreign fishing vessels or government. Despite annual budget allocations for Swains island transportation there’s not been a trip to Swains island for 4 years after numerous attempts and requests.

“It is arguable that this territorial government has practiced a policy of relocation, de-population, civic abandonment, and disenfranchisement (exclusion, alienation) that is in effect compulsory (forced) rather than consensual, and that is not consistent with due process and government by consent of the governed under the federal and territorial constitutions.”

There are political inconsistencies. According to Su’a, the U.S government repeatedly and formally recognized and confirmed (including the 2011 letter from DOI) the right of Swains island to a legal and political status, as well as public governance by the federal and territorial governments, on an equal basis with the islands of Tutuila, Manu’a and Aunu’u.

He also mentioned in his letter that Swains island has a Delegate in the American Samoa House of Representatives with all the powers of a Representatives, except the right to vote, like other U.S. Territory Delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Like other U.S. Territory Delegates to Congress, the Swains island Delegate to the American Samoa Legislature can introduce Bills/Resolutions, Chair Committees, vote in committees, but cannot vote in the chamber for the final passage of Legislation.”

The Swains delegate to an American Samoa Constitutional Convention can vote for changes to the Constitution of American Samoa, but a Swains island delegate to the American Samoa Legislature cannot vote on Legislation.

He also said that like other U.S. Territories with delegates to Washington without a Senator, Swains island has no Senator in the Fono and has been paying taxes without representation and depleting its resources for nearly 100 years.

“It seems Swains has become a Territory of American Samoa, and no longer of the United States. Yet, the U.S. Stated Department of Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) still recognizes Swains island as a territory of the United States.

In closing, Su’a has two requests for Swains — a representation in any Constitution or Political Review and a request for at least two trips a month to Swains like is done for Manu’a and thus allow for the repatriation of island residents.

Finally, Swains is requesting $10 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for infrastructure development and to provide employment for Swains island residents. Also an additional $3 million annual budget to maintain essential services for the people.

Su’a said Swains island needs a landing craft to safely transport equipment and material to Swains island because of the lack of wharf or dock, internet communication; water purification system; sustainable renewable power; airport and a safe wharf.