5 Feb 2016

Salary rise protests continue in American Samoa

3:42 pm on 5 February 2016
American Samoans protest against plans to almost double lawmakers salaries.

American Samoans protest against plans to almost double lawmakers salaries. Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

People have taken to the streets in American Samoa to protest over a bill which seeks to almost double lawmakers' salaries.

In a territory where public demonstrations are rare, close to 100 people protested against the proposed pay-rise - making it the largest protest in about 20 years.

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Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

Earlier this week protestors lined the streets chanting, "No to fono pay-raises, yes to education, yes to a hospital" and held placards that included messages like, 'Public Health, not Fono Wealth'.

The Fono, or legislature's, debate on a proposed wage rise comes at a time when American Samoa's only hospital has been using bed-sheets as dressings, and lining hospital beds with rubbish bags due to cashflow problems.

There are also complaints that there aren't enough basic supplies at schools, like desks and chairs, for students.

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Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

And just today, it's been reported that while there are 25 suspected zika cases on the territory, these are yet to be confirmed, because according to a Health Official, the Honolulu lab which American Samoa uses has not been paid.

The community group, the United Citizens of American Samoa, organised the demonstration and one of its members, Laurenthia Pouesi, said they will continue to speak out against wage rises.

"Our schools need to be invested in, as well as our hospital. One of the supporters had mentioned that there is a lack of medication at our local pharmacies. So, we're trying to tell them that the moral issue is that there are better ways that the money can be spent."

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Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

The bill proposes senators' annual salaries rise from 25-thousand US dollars to 45-thousand and the governor's and speaker's salary rise from 30 to 50-thousand.

Our correspondent, Monica Miller, said because it's such a small territory, protests of this nature are unusual, and created some discussion in the Fono.

"Senator Galeai Tuufuli, he got up and said, this is democracy in action, this may be foreign to a lot of us, but our children are exercising freedom that some of you who used to be in the military fought for. It's good he said, 'And I think that the activity of today has made us pause and reflect and consider whether the decisions we are going to make, are good ones."

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Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

Monica Miller said however, some lawmakers had earlier offended people when justifying the need for their pay hike.

"They say, a lot of their constituents come to them to ask for money, pay their bills, maybe buy medicine for their children or for their family obligations, and that sort of thing. I mean, that was one of the reasons, and people were just appalled that they're hearing that their lawmakers are giving constituents money. It's essentially buying their votes."

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Photo: United Citizens of American Samoa

Laurenthia Pouesi said people do often fear publicly speaking out against the government, but that young people decided now is the time to make their voices heard.

"The younger community feels that all they've ever heard is the government taking and taking and taking, and not necessarily giving back to the community, and not being so in touch with their constituents, I think that's another issue that we're facing."

She said the Fono has the power to stop the bill, but protestors are prepared to take the matter to the governor and the US department of interior, if need be.

A protest in American Samoa against bill to increase salaries of legislators.

A protest in American Samoa against bill to increase salaries of legislators. Photo: RNZI / Monica Miller

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