Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The opening of the Third Regular Session of the 38th Legislature of American Samoa took place on Monday morning at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium in Utulei. After the Posting of the Colors Ceremony performed by the Department of Public Safety, the event was officially opened by a short service conducted by Monsignor Viane Etuale of the Catholic Church, after which House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale declared the Third Regular Session of the 38th Legislature open. In his State of the Territory Address which was delivered in Samoan, Governor Lemanu P. S. Mauga stated that he has forwarded to the Fono the required reports on his administration’s major achievements in the last year and its proposed legislative agenda and strategies for the final year of his tenure. “The key goal of these legislative and project strategies, is the government’s responsibility to respond and fulfill the needs of our people in their daily lives and prepare them for natural disasters and calamities in these challenging times we are facing due to climate change and global warming,” Governor Lemanu said. “These problems are causing many social changes and government is faced with the difficult task of finding better ways to assist our people in coping with these problems.” He pointed out that while the whole world is affected by these same problems, the severity of the situation is doubled in American Samoa compared to the United States and other countries because of our smaller land mass. The governor recalled that the issue was discussed in a regional conference held in Hawaii at the beginning of last year which he attended together with Senator Togiola Tulafono and senior government officials. The conference was also attended by government leaders and officials from other countries of the Pacific. He said that he had spoken on the issue and had emphasized the difference in land masses pointing out that the United States and other bigger countries have time to implement measures to respond to the impacts of climate change. However, American Samoa with limited land available will be severely affected or cease to exist by the time these measures are implemented. “This has become a heavy burden on the government because we have to take in account the effect of global warming on our environment, our way of life and most importantly the lives of our people,” Governor Lemanu stressed. “There is no room for complacency because we never know when another natural disaster will strike. So we must act now for the sake of our people so that our children will inherit the legacy of a government that protects its citizens’ rights and lives as our forefathers have passed it on to us.” He emphasized that we should not forget the trials and tribulations we had to endure in the aftermath of the September 29, 2009 tsunami which wreaked havoc on some parts of the island and the 34 victims who lost their lives in the tragedy. Her also commented on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic not only on the public but also on the Territory’s economy. “There was fear, insecurity and trepidation among our people because it was the first time they had heard of such a disease and were forced to stay indoors,” Governor Lemanu recalled. “Our economy also suffered because all the businesses and places of employment were closed. But the government at the time of these calamities responded well to bring them under control and reassure the people that help was available.” He commended former governors Togiola T.A. Tulafono and Lolo Matalasi Moliga who were in office at the time. Another pressing concern that Governor Lemanu raised was the decline in the Territory’s population notably in the Swains Island, which he said was because of the failure of government to provide adequate and reliable transportation, communications and resources for people to live there. He expressed his concern that the same thing could happen to Manu’a because of the lack of government services for people residing there. The governor said that he has visited Manu’a many times and he has noticed that not many people are living there and that number seems to diminish every time he visits. “And in their distress and anguish they cry out wanting to know why they are being treated like this,” he said. “Not enough flights and ferry trips, and the fares are so astronomically high it’s ridiculous.” He recounted an incident he witnessed with tears in his eyes while standing under a coconut tree in front of the ASPA office in Faleasao during one of his visits. The boat from Tutuila had arrived but was unable to enter the harbor and he saw the passengers swimming to shore and dragging their cargo, the village aumaga swam out to help some who didn’t have the strength to drag their cargo. “This year marks 124 years since American Samoa has been under the United States yet it seems like the people of Manu’a are still living in 1900,” said Governor Lemanu. He pointed out that it was of vital importance for government to improve its efforts to raise the standard of living for the people of Swains Island and Manu’a to that enjoyed by the people of Tutuila. “I often hear people expressing their support of this by saying that people from Manu’a would also like to eat McDonald’s,” he said. “It may sound funny but the message is clear and serious because what is good for Tutuila is also good for Manu’a.” The governor revealed that negotiations with management of the new airline Pago Wings will begin either this week or next week on its proposed service between Tutuila and Manu’a. He stated that one thing he had picked up while in Honolulu, was that a lot of people working in Oahu are from the big island of Hawaii and they commute to work using daily flights between the islands. He reasoned that the same idea could be implemented here with workers from Tutuila going to Manu’a and back and those from Manu’a can come here for work then return using the Pago Wings services. Education was another key priority of the current administration which Lemanu highlighted saying it is imperative that the Territory’s future leaders must have access to good teachers and good resources. He stated that all the schools buildings have been renovated and some schools have new buildings and gymnasiums. In conclusion, Governor Lemanu thanked the business community for supporting the government in building a strong economy which withstood the domino-effects of COVID-19, thanks to federal funds which government made sure went to businesses and individuals in a short time in order to keep the economy afloat post-Covid. This, he explained, was the reason why the $36 million of surplus funds was utilized in the way it was used. This was at a time when some states in the mainland and many countries experienced an economic downturn. Governor Lemanu also thanked the Fono for their patience and cooperation in their shared responsibility as leaders of the government, and apologized if the administration had been too hasty in their decision-making regarding government funds. He reiterated that the key goal was to serve the people of American Samoa to the best of their abilities. Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean who responded on behalf of the Fono broke the ice by stating that according to the latest census, American Samoa’s population had declined, and so it was up to them to come up with a way to make more babies to populate ‘Olohenga (Swains Island) and Manu’a. He stated that he will request the Senate Health Committee Chairman to recommend a method to increase the number of babies this year, as the audience laughed. Tuaolo continued in a more serious tone saying that while war rages in Ukraine and Gaza, American Samoa is enjoying peace, economic stability and well being under Governor Lemanu’s leadership with the support and protection of traditional leaders. He stated that the proof can be seen in the improvements made by the administration in the form of new school buildings, paved roads, parks and the affordable cost of living. A special ceremony for House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale saw him honored with gifts to mark his 20 years as Speaker of the House of Representatives, making him the longest-serving Speaker. He was gifted with a plaque, gavel and $10,000.