American Samoa's new administration urged to privatise some services | Pacific Beat

American Samoa's new administration urged to privatise some services

American Samoa's new administration urged to privatise some services

Updated 11 December 2012, 9:38 AEDT

American Samoa's economy is in trouble.

Things have been going down hill, particularly since the tuna cannery closure in 2009.

Now, the Bank of Hawai'i is planning to close its branches on the island early next year.

All this will put a huge amount of pressure on the incoming cabinet, led by Lolo Matalasi Moliga.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:David Robinson, president, American Samoan Chamber of Commerce

ROBINSON: I think the main thing is to get a lot closer to the persons, to the incoming administration. It's been difficult over the past few years for the administration and the private sector to work together. And we feel that we've been left out of the number of important decisions which could have an influence on improving the economy. So we're looking forward to working with the incoming Governor and the Lieutenant Governor to make some recommendations.

COUTTS: Why has it been difficult to work with the outgoing administration?

ROBINSON: Well I think it's been one where they probably felt that they had the answers and they didn't really need so much input from the private sector. We've been trying to get a lot closer to them over the years but it hasn't been very easy. They have taken on board some of the suggestions that we've made, but we really feel that we need to have a lot more input in the decision making process in order that we can try and prevent any further worsening of our economy.

COUTTS: What do you see or what would you like to see the incoming Governor and Lieutenant Governor do to try and turn this situation around?

ROBINSON: It's a very difficult thing to do. I mean you can't suddenly turn an economy round no matter how small it is and ours is pretty small. But we really want to address the fundamental issues in various industry sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries and tourism, and try in the case of agriculture to be more self-sufficient. We import a lot of our requirements for foodstuffs and we feel that a proper plan, a program for improving the agricultural sector is high on the agenda. Tourism is another one with the right amount of funding for the tourism sector, we feel that infrastructure and new experiences can be put in place to attract more tourism. There are things like privatisation, there are a lot of activities here that the government is involved with which we feel should be handled by the private sector, and we put together a proposal for various government activities to be looked at with a view to privatising some of them.

COUTTS: Can you give me an example of that?

ROBINSON: There are some things that our current electricity utility does such as the collection of garbage and things like that which we feel should be handled by the private sector. They distribute fuel and we feel that that's something that could be handled by the private sector. They have a small recycling program for bottles and cans and things like that, and we feel that that should be in the hands of the private sector as well.

COUTTS: Why do you think the private sector could do better?

ROBINSON: Because these sort of activities are private sector oriented type of jobs. And we feel that the government should stick to government things like looking after the bureaucracy and government approvals and things like that, and leave things which are more commercial nature to the private sector. It's been proven on a number of occasions that when organisations that the government has previously run are given to the private sector, they've become more efficient, more cost-effective and the private sector does a much better job.

COUTTS: Well how fragile is American Samoa's economy at the moment? We hear about the cliff-edge that is being talked about for the US at this stage, is American Samoa in a similar situation?

ROBINSON: No I don't think so, I don't think it's that bad at all. It's just that there has not been any real investment in the territory. As your opening article suggested since the closure of one of our tuna canneries in 2009, putting a lot of people out of work. we really haven't recovered from then, we've been sliding backwards. So we need the incoming administration to look at trying to encourage new investment and the creation of jobs so that there's a lot more disposable income in the local economy.

COUTTS: Is it the poor economy that has prompted the Bank of Hawaii to withdraw?

ROBINSON: I don't know that that's the reason. They cite a number of reasons, most of them seem to be administrative, but I've no doubt that in their overall thinking they've looked at the state of the economy and that has been part of their decision making process.

COUTTS: So things have to be done and done quickly in your estimation?

ROBINSON: Well we'd like to see them done quickly, but as I said before it's not possible to suddenly make new investments in the economy, it's not possible to reorganise things quickly. But I think we need to start and we need to set a timetable or the administration needs to set a timetable to do certain things. They've been plenty of plans, plenty of studies, plenty of reports that have been completed on how to stimulate the economy, and it's now time to dust these off and have a good look at them and see which are the things that can be done in the short terms.

COUTTS: At what rate is American Samoa's unemployment at the moment?

ROBINSON: It's very difficult to know but I think it's probably running at something in the order of about anything between 18 and 20 per cent.

COUTTS: And so how are families surviving?

ROBINSON: With great difficulty and a lot of handouts.

COUTTS: So 18 per cent's really high in a small population?

ROBINSON: Very high indeed yes, and that's been one of the problems that there hasn't been any new investment which can provide employment. And since the cannery's closed down a lot of people have been and remain unemployed.

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