Monday, January 4, 2016
In the Page One lead story, indeed the only page one story, in the December 21 edition of Samoa News, American Samoa Republican Party Chairman Utu Abe Malae was quoted as saying “We are not doing enough” to educate Samoan students in math and science disciplines. Speaking in his capacity as director of the territory's power authority, Malae said that “the entire American Samoa school system must be revamped and follow the example of Manumalo Baptist School.”
Careful to note that Department of Education Director Vaitinasa Salu Hunkin-Finau had made a similar proposal, Malae said he would overhaul the department by creating a semi-autonomous agency like that in the Northern Marianas, where Malae once served a tour as head of that government's utility agency. While not further mentioning Hunkin-Finau by name, his implication was clear when he continued that “This is just an edifice but the success depends on those who hold the top positions and the board of directors; i.e., those who stand on this edifice."
In other words, if the system needs to be overhauled, it means it is not succeeding as is and if success depends on who holds the top positions, the current leaders need to be replaced as part of the overhaul. He went on to point out that competent administrators are not just top-notch educators, but proven managers. Hunkin-Finau has a doctorate in education from the University of Hawaii while Malae, who has built a career around specializing in overhauling and successfully turning around government entities, has a master's in public administration as well as an engineering master's degree—hence his particular interest in management as well as math and science.
The twice-married Hunkin-Finau ran for governor in 2012 but even though she was on a ticket that included her brother Eni Faleomavaega, she finished poorly while he sailed home to a 13th term in Congress despite rumors about his health late in the campaign. Hunkin-Finau previously was fired from her position as president of the community college.
Malae may well have had in mind the departure of an alarming number of teachers dissatisfied with Hunkin-Finau's leadership when he said the “next step would be to improve the lot of the teaching profession — better compensation; empower them to make decisions; administration is to support them not to rule them.” [emphasis added] When he said the revamp also would “need excellent financial and other support staff who take care of the nuts and bolts — so that teachers can do their work well,” he likely did not mean cleaning toilets as part of the “nuts and bolts,” however. DOE office staff reportedly are unhappy with a recent memo from the director reminding them that their duties included cleaning the department bathrooms on a rotating basis.
Although there has been no coverage in the local media, it has been widely rumored that the local Democratic Party already has voted for Hunkin-Finau to be its nominee for congress this year to avenge the defeat of her brother Faleomavaega, who lost a bid for a 14th term in the 2014 election when rumors about his health proved true. Although after his defeat Faleomavaega vowed to continue to be involved in Samoan politics, he never built his own home in the territory and does not live here. He lives on the Mainland now and other than a brief trip home for Flag Day this year, has not been head from locally. It is not known if he discussed his sister's attempt to return the seat to the family's control while he was on island it would come as no surprise if he encouraged her to do it since his health continues to be poor and there is no chance he could be elected if he even ran again.
Perhaps Hunkin-Finau has made no public announcement of her intentions because local law would require her to take leave from her government job while she is a candidate. Since she is widely known, there is no rush and the filing period does not open until July in any event. It is not clear if news of the party endorsement has been suppressed by Samoa News at the request of one of the paper's editors, Teri Hunkin, who is Hunkin Finau's sister-in-law and also is the territory's Democratic National Committeewoman.
Meanwhile, the power agency director taking the unusual step of criticizing the performance of another government agency surely can be seen as obliquely taking a shot across the bow of Hunkin-Finau's looming candidacy for Congress when seen in the context of Malae's other position: chairman of the Republican Party of American Samoa. Samoa News makes no mention of Malae's political position nor Hunkin-Finau's political aspirations but because of the story's prominent placement in the paper, the implications are clear on an island well tuned in to politics. Election year has just begun. Stay tuned.