Am. Samoa Commerce Group Hopes For More Prominent Role
By Fili Sagapolutele
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 11, 2012) – There is a call for the Chamber of Commerce new executive board to quickly engage the new American Samoa administration as soon as they are in office in order to emphasize the clear role of the business association, after the outgoing Togiola administration treated the group as an "enemy of the government", according to comments made at last Wednesday's meeting of the Chamber.
During the general membership meeting, out-going chairman David Robinson said the current administration "is not too keen on working with the private sector."
Additionally, the present administration "is guilty of not engaging" the private sector through the Chamber, which has something to offer in the development of the territory, and hopefully this will change when the new administration takes over in January next year, said Robinson.
Robinson believes the Chamber should be invited by the administration of governor-elect Lolo Matalasi Moliga and lieutenant-governor Lemanu Peleti Sialega Mauga to provide a more prominent role in assisting with development plans and implementing strategies together.
Local businessman Carlos Sanchez, who is also Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s representative in fisheries and marine issues, told the gathering that "we’ve not been able to have the governor recognize us as a force."
Sanchez, who is also chairman of the American Samoa Government's (ASG) Shipyard Services Authority, and whose vice chair is Robinson, acknowledged that he and Robinson are friends of the governor.
Other members also commented about the lack of the current administration’s willingness to work with the Chamber and Robinson responded that it has been a problem for a long time.
The Chamber should really engage with the incoming Lolo and Lemanu administration and "try to persuade them that they should honor the comments that they made on their platform before being elected," said Robinson, reminding the group that both candidates had stated during the Chamber-sponsored gubernatorial meeting — as well as in the press — that "one of the things that they’re going to do is to engage considerably with the private sector through the Chamber of Commerce."
(During the August gubernatorial meeting with the Chamber, Lolo told business representatives that partnership between the public and private sectors must be developed to provide the services needed by people for economic success.)
StarKist Samoa official Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona suggested that the new executive board should sit down with the incoming governor as soon as the new administration takes office and "explain to him the role the Chamber plays in this community, in this government, and see what his feelings are, moving forward."
"It's very important for all to engage with him... get his feelings," said Taeaoafua, who was representing StarKist at the meeting on behalf of general manager Brett Butler.
He also said that "the only time you hear about the Chamber" is when there are critical issues in the territory — while the government doesn’t seek the Chamber’s advice, suggestions, or counsel.
"I think you’re right," was Robinson’s reply, adding that the current administration "has considered the private sector the enemy... but we’re not the enemy. We have a lot to offer with a broader membership from various sectors of the business community."
Robinson said the Chamber membership has reached 92 businesses, which represents a large number of the workforce in the territory.
Perhaps one of the ways for the Chamber to have a more visual presence in the territory would be to have an office with a part time staffer, according to a suggestion at the meeting. However, due to very limited funds, the organization is unable to do so.
Robinson said that the Chamber "is in a reasonable financial position" with a projected $11,880 cash in the bank by the end of this year. He urged members who have yet to pay for membership dues to do so as soon as possible.
He went on to point out that in Samoa, that country’s Chamber of Commerce plays a vital role in government and the community, with representatives on various committees.
"The Samoa Chamber of Commerce are there in the thick of the action — the decision making" and they even have an office and staff of about six people, said Robinson, who added that the group gets financial support from their government as well as the governments of Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific Island Forum and other regional organizations.
"But we don’t get anything from anybody. We’re on our own," he said, adding that the only financial support for the local Chamber comes from the membership dues.
He said the out-going board is working on an application to the U.S. Department of Interior to try to access some funds, but "if you look at the way you have to apply, I think it's so difficult, you just feel like giving up all together."
Meanwhile, he said the board is always looking to provide increased value to members and would appreciate feedback from the membership as to the sort of activities it would like to see — for example, the format of regular meetings, the establishment of sub-committees to work on particular projects and a monthly newsletter that would include economic data.
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