Tuesday, September 23, 2014


On August 21 Faleomavaega's office issued a press release headlined “Faleomavaega and Governor Lolo Make American Samoa Top Priority in Discussions on Pacific Marine National Monument.”  His release included the text of a letter he sent to President Obama July 21 objecting to the President's proposal for a Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) and a letter to Governor Lolo in which he saidthe White House immediately assured my office that President Obama is committed to receiving input and comments from all stakeholders before any decision is finalized, and I take the President at his word.”  He continued that “because of the importance of the possible expansion of the PRI Monument to American Samoa, I continue to make this a top priority." (emphasis added)

Yet, between his initial press release ­ on the matter on June 19 and his September 15 admission he was left out of the key meeting held to discuss the proposal, he had not one word to say about the issue, even though he promised “I will keep the people of American Samoa updated as the matter progresses.”  Perhaps he had nothing to say because he had made no progress but in his September 15 release, headlined “White House Aides Hold Meeting with West Pac Regarding PRIMNM, he tried to downplay the importance of the meeting by using the term “White House Aides.” He may have fooled our local media, which gave the story short shrift, and the average reader would not know if it were not explained that these White House “aides” included two of the most senior and powerful men in the Obama administration: Counselor to the President John Podesta, one of the top three assistants to the President, and Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chairman Michael Boots. The director of Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service also participated.

Faleomavaega made it sound as if this meeting were some sort of gathering with junior people beneath his station as a delegate to Congress when, in fact, short of the President himself, this is as high as one can go in the administration on this issue. Yes, as he pointed out, none of the Pacific members of Congress or staff was included but he, after all, is the senior member of all seven congressmen and women from Hawaii and the territories and represents the jurisdiction most directly affected by the proposal.  Moreover, Faleomavaega was one of Obama's earliest supporters in 2007.  Not to include him in this meeting, now that he has announced he has recovered from his illness, is to humiliate him.

If it were Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC) Executive Director Kitty Simonds who was able to broker this meeting, then kudos to her. It is reasonable to assume that she or whoever arranged this meeting also bypassed Faleomavaega in so doing, otherwise there is no question that his pushy enforcer, Lisa Williams, would have insisted her office if not her boss himself be part of the discussions. However, just as every organization who submitted written comments to the White House bypassed Faleomavaega, it is likely a conscious decision was made to bypass him on this matter as well, since it has become increasingly clear that he cannot deliver. This was true even before his unexplained illness almost a year ago but is even more true now.

It is just as likely that Faleomavaega did not want to push himself into the lead if he sensed he were not going to be able to get any concessions from the White House, which also might explain why he was silent on the issue publicly between his August 17 and September 15 news releases. Since he has announced to the people he has recovered from his illness and, now that Congress has recessed until after the November 4 election, it would be expected that he would be anxious to return home to launch his reelection bid as soon as possible. Questions about his ineffectiveness on the PRIMNM controversy would not be welcomed.  If there were to be public debates this year, a moderator would be remiss not to ask the delegate why he said this issue would be his top priority but has not reported on what steps he has taken to get the White House to modify its proposal and what success has he had.

Meanwhile, his press staff must to be congratulating themselves once again because the local media have not pressed about his absence from this meeting any more than they did about his absence from a key congressional delegation visit to the island in August. The White House meeting was September 9 but even though WPFMC issued a post-meeting statement the following day that was well covered all over the region, Faleomavaega had nothing to say and likely never was asked for comments. However, on September 12 his office issued a release headlined “Congressman Faleomavaega Meets with StarKist President and CEO Sam Hwi Lee.” Although StarKist is vehemently opposed to PRIMNM, if the matter were discussed between the two men, it was not mentioned at all in the release. Not a single word.

Samoa News ran that story on September 15, the same day they also published a story about why WPFMC believes PRIMNM is a bad idea. Even though both stories were written by Samoa News chief political correspondent Fili Sagapolutele, who also is the territory's AP stringer, there was no attempt to synthesize the news.  In reviewing the stories for publication, there apparently was no effort by the editors to show any correlation between the Faleomavaega meeting with StarKist and the ongoing controversy with RPIMNM. Once again, Faleomavaega got away with it. Next time Editor-in-Chief Rhonda Annesley writes one of her Gong Show editorials, she needs to gong Sagapolutele and also the editor who did not ask him to synthesize the stories, which the dictionary says means “to combine two or more things to produce a new, more complex product.”

Readers deserve better.

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