Governor Says Federal Policies Stifling Diversification

Governor Lolo Moliga continues pounding to federal officials the message that efforts to develop and diversify the local economy have been stymied and stifled by federal policies.

This week, the governor wrote to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) Budget Analysis Strategic Issues Director, Dr. Susan Irving, with comments concerning a review of the territory’s public debt status by GAO.

A team from this division of GAO is compiling a reportekks on American Samoa’s debts in collaboration with the Governor’s Office staff.

For each of the territories, GAO will report on trends in public debt and revenue for fiscal years 2005-2015.

GAO will also look at the major reported drivers of the debt and what is known about the territories’ ability to repay.

The report is to be completed next month or October.

In his letter to the GAO Director the governor took issue with some of the information not being included in the report for American Samoa.

He said the reporting parameters of factual information and the brevity of such information precluded discussions of issues compelling ASG to utilize private sector options to access additional capital to finance critical economic projects as it receives only $10 million annually from US Interior Department “to meet social and economic development infrastructure needs.”

Lolo says since the transfer of administrative responsibilities from the Department of the Navy to DOI in 1951 the territory “has had its efforts to develop its economy stymied and stifled by prohibitive federal policies.”

Commenting on American Samoa’s one industry economy he said, withdrawal of federal incentives, automatic imposition of federal minimum wage hikes of 40-cents per hour every three years, prohibition of fishing in the high seas by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reduction of fishing grounds by US Presidential ocean monuments expansion, grossly insensitive enforcement of US Coast Guard rules and regulations, and stiff competition from foreign low wage canned tuna fish producing countries, “severely threaten the continued viability of this industry,” the governor explained.

The governor said, “StarKist Samoa is the only remaining cannery after the closure last December of Tri Marine International’s Samoa Tuna Processors Inc.

COS Samoa Packing closed its local cannery operations in 2009.

Lolo said, “American Samoa’s economy is still going through recovery, and the potential imminent loss of StarKist Samoa attributed to the above enumerated factors will cause the territory …to emulate the financial crisis experienced by Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.”

And he told the GAO that “American Samoa will be at the federal government’s doorsteps requesting a bailout if… StarKist is forced to relocate its facility to a low wage canned tuna fish production country.”

Lolo again brings up that tourism efforts are hampered by the cabotage policy.

He said, “The American Samoa Government’s Debt Structure is the direct result of limited options available to access venture capital to build our economic development infrastructure and stressed, “These factors should be considered in alignment with the debt service position of American Samoa as well as other territories of the United States.”

Copies of the governor’s letter were also sent to US Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, and DOI’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs, Nikolao Pula.

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