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Op-Ed: Manu’atele, Part 2

The development of the Manu’atele cannot be achieved and maintained without a reliable means of transportation, both air and sea. The possibility of Samoa Air — a private enterprise operating out of independent Samoa — of flying to Ofu Manu’a from Tutuila, an extension of its flights from Maota Savaii to Tutuila, is welcome news to Manu’a, and Ofu residents in particular. 

If the Samoa Air opportunity materializes, with Inter-Island Airway servicing the Fitiuta Ta’u route, the only missing link then would be a reliable and appropriate boat to provide transportation services to the Manu’a islands.   

The status of ASG efforts to purchase a new boat to service the Manu’a islands is not known at this time. The last update received from the director of Public Works was two months ago — they were getting close to securing a boat, and DPW was spearheading the effort because they are the originating department for the grant. Of course, time will tell, and hopefully sooner as opposed to later. 

It is clear ASG does not have a developmental plan for the Manu’atele, or is serious about it if there is; otherwise the transportation issue would have been resolved once and for all some time ago. That is why the Manu’atele leadership needs to step up to the plate now; for it is now, or never!

The district governor of Manu’atele, three Fono representatives, and two senators need to meet as a group and discuss matters relating to the development and transportation needs of Manu’atele before and during the continuation of the current and last Fono session before elections. 

They then need to meet with the leadership of the Fono, governor and key members of the administration who oversee Manu’a transportation matters. In these meetings, Manu’atele leadership needs to ascertain the boat that’s being procured is Manu’a- seaworthy through thorough proper certifications by qualified engineers and the Coast Guard. Verbal or written certifications by the directors of Port Administration and Public Works or the governor are not sufficient.

Secondly, ascertain that the purchase agreement involving said vessel is litigation free (think Marisco); and finally ascertain there is sufficient funding for maintenance and repair in the budget that’s being submitted to the Fono for review and approval. A special account should be established (if not already) to deposit these budgeted funds and passenger and freight fees for the sole use of operating and maintaining the vessels. 

Worthy of consideration by the next administration and Fono is establishing a government shipping agency or corporation to house the M.V. Sili and the new vessel. Such investment can partly pay for itself yet support productive economic enterprises let alone public service activities. The Department of Port Administration’s plate is overflowing with its core area of responsibilities; divesting shipping services now would improve services from both agencies of government. 

There seems to be an ASG fatalistic view of the Manu’atele — that it is isolated and because of that, people have emigrated to Tutuila and elsewhere; thus limited public funds are better utilized on Tutuila where most of the population resides. Political obligation on the part of the US (through AS) to Manu’atele aside, there are viable economic opportunities in Manu’atele that warrants public investment in infrastructure such as transportation.   

There’s a Manu’a farmer, a Viet Nam veteran, who has farmed in Manu’a for years. He started out growing orchids for overseas markets. Needless to say, it fizzled because of the transportation problems to and from Manu’a. With the resilience of a war veteran and love his Manu’atele, this Johnny Apple Seed of the South Seas is in communication with overseas markets for his Manu’a brand of cocoa. Now working on establishing a Manu’a co-op to grow Manu’a cocoa, all he needs is the US and ASG to provide reliable transportation; and Johnny and his co-op are ready to move Mount Lata to the world!

(A little known fact locally: Samoa grown coca was once considered by world cocoa/chocolate suppliers as ‘Samoan gold standard’ quality  — but consistent and reliable ‘quality’ sources in Samoa have been unavailable. However, the world market for Koko Samoa has just began to be revived.)

Manu’a has its own brand of taro, called talo Manu’a; bananas called Soa’a; and breadfruit called ulu Manu’a. With Johnny and co-op growing these, and a chef Sualua concocting his local creations, i.e. turning ulu Manu’a to Manu’a flour, the possibilities are there for at least local consumption and tourists. Perhaps in joining forces with our neighbor Samoa, world supply dreams can be realized.

And yet, another veteran, and also retired police officer, a son of Manu’atele, is now fishing in Manu’a waters and selling his fish at the Fagatogo market, Tutuila stores and families whenever air transportation allows. He is looking for financial assistance in setting up shop in Manu’a to prepare fish for the school lunch program and general consumers.

In terms of tourism, Manu’atele can never be a Hawaii, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Fiji, or Samoa or Tutuila for that matter. Manu’atele’s allure, however, is as special as her history, culture, and lore; and can attract a special type of tourists. The leadership of Manu’atele should leverage the expertise of the current executive director of American Samoa Visitor’s Bureau (who has done a magnificent job worthy of a Fono commendation), to develop a tourism development plan for the Manu’atele. But first things first — yes, the transportation problem needs to be addressed.  

Where ASG and others look at Manu’atele as the proverbial glass half empty and perhaps hopeless, the above mentioned or alluded to individuals (and a few others) look at our beloved Manu’atele overflowing with special opportunities. With time-tested confidence and enthusiasm, these visionaries can clearly see the possibilities Tui Manu’a Elisara saw when he ceded his kingdom to the US; and are golden resources to take advantage of and emulate.

Last but not least, Manu’atele needs a safety net — an organization that watches out for the best interests of the people of Manua’tele; and to be a busy agent reminding the government (US and ASG) and the Manu’atele political and traditional leaders, lest they forget, that there is a third district in the AS territory and she is called MANU’ATELE.  And she is unique in that she was established later through a separate treaty of cession; and equally unique in that she has been for the most part, forsaken.  

In part 3 and last of the series on Manu’atele, I will discuss this safety net organization