American Samoa Gov’t; Samoa Packing Co. v.
SAMOA PACKING COMPANY, Petitioner
AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT et al., Respondents
High Court of American Samoa
AP No. 002-85
May 22, 1985
All hearings of the tax exemption board, when considering a request for tax exemption, must be open to the public.
Before GARDNER, Chief Justice, Presiding, MURPHY, Associate Justice, ALA’ILIMA,* Acting Associate Justice, TAUANU’U, Chief Associate Judge, and LUALEMAGA, Associate Judge.
Counsel: For the Appellant, Roy J.D. Hall, Jr.
For the Real Party in Interest, Talalelei Tulafono
For the American Samoa Government, Phyllis Coven, Assistant Attorney General
If Government expects the individual to obey the law, government itself must obey the law. In this case it did not.
Starkist filed for an amendment to its tax exemption. The law demands a public hearing in these matters. A.S.C.A. sec. 11.1605. The reason is clear. If government is going to allow one taxpayer to pay only a fraction of normal tax, other taxpayers have a right to know why that taxpayer is receiving preferential treatment. The public will never know if part of the so-called public hearing is public and part is private. All the cards should be on the table. However, in this case only part of the hearing was public.
The people have a right to know about the workings of their government and the activities of public officials in the performance of their official duties. This is the purpose of Section 11.1605 which provides for public hearing. That purpose cannot be fulfilled unless all of the public hearing is public.
As one writer has put it, “Freedom of information about governmental affairs is an inherent and necessary part of our political system. Ours is a system of self government–and self government can work effectively only where the people have full access to information about what their government is doing.” (Hennings, Constitutional Law: The People’s Right to Know (1959) 45 A.B.A.J. 667, 668)
We would add–that which is not known and understood is likely to be distrusted. [2ASR2d57]
This matter is remanded to the tax exemption board with instructions to conduct public hearings in compliance with the law.
* Honorable Charles Ala’ilima, Judge, District Court of American Samoa, sitting pro tem by designation of the Secretary of the Interior.