Committee to Wait meets President to discuss FY2022 Budget

PALIKIR, POHNPEI. September 15, 2021.  The Second Regular Session of the 22nd Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia convened on September 13, 2021 as set by Speaker Wesley W. Simina to wrap up its review and work on the FY 2022 budget among others measures.

Following the formalities to open and convene a session, Speaker Simina appointed Senator Ferny S. Perman, Chairman of the Committee on Health & Social Affairs to head the Committee to Wait on the President with congressional members Floor Leader Florencio S. Harper, Senator Joseph J. Urusemal and Senator Aren B. Palik.

The meeting began with President David W. Panuelo welcoming the Members of the Committee attending, present as well were members of the Executive staff. Chairman Perman informed the President that the Congress is in session and ready to transact business.

President Panuelo provided the Executive’s agenda to the Committee with a summary report of the following details:

1.  Pending Nominations

2.  Covid19 Update

3.  Supplemental Budget

4.  Upcoming State Visits to Kosrae & Chuuk

5.  Pending Legislation

6.  Request: Extend Tourism Sector Mitigation Fund to June 30th, 2022

7.  Request: Appropriate $2,000,000 from local revenue to Augment the Low-Income Household Program.

First item on the President’s agenda were nominations for the vacant positions for Secretary of the Department of Resources & Development, Secretary of the Department of Health & Social Affairs, the National Election Commissioner for the State of Yap and a board member slot for the FSM Social Security Board. President Panuelo is seeking positive confirmations from Congress to fill the essential cabinet positions before the next fiscal year. Chairman of Health & Social Affairs, Senator Ferny S. Perman, explained to the President that during the previous session there was a shortfall of members voting as those members who were absent had prior engagements with the public during those days, but is optimistic that this session will accommodate the Executive's wishes for confirmations.

The next item on the President’s agenda is an update by the President on the nation's Covid19 vaccination status and repatriation efforts with flights scheduled for the upcoming months. Confirmed repatriation dates as of this time for the State of Kosrae are slotted for September 13th, October 4th and October 25th; for the State of Yap, October 3rd (proposed) and October 24th; ,scheduled for the State of Pohnpei, September 16th & 30th; as of the moment the State of Chuuk’s repatriation schedule is to be determined at a later date. In addition to the reported repatriation dates, the President gave an update on the Nation’s overall inoculation efforts with current stats for the fully vaccinated at 61.1% and the partially vaccinated at 71.2% of the Nation’s population. A breakdown of individual states for those who are fully vaccinated; State of Kosrae at 69.4%, the State of Yap at 80.3%, the State of Pohnpei at 62.9% and 53.7% for the State of Chuuk. The figures for those who are partially vaccinated; the State of Kosrae at 74.2%, the State of Yap at 84.4%, the State of Pohnpei at 74.6% and finally with the State of Chuuk at 64.9%.

A general discussion surrounding the vaccines and quarantine procedures particularly with security issues were raised by the Committee. The President assured the Committee that additional measures in security protocols for quarantine procedures are in place to avoid breaches from likely occurring, one such measure is the use of security cameras to monitor the designated quarantine areas. The President also shared his sincere sentiments regarding the concerns of the Committee and assured them that the utmost care in deploying repatriation procedures are adhered to. Senator Joseph J. Urusemal raised his concerns whether or not to continue the repatriation efforts until such time a better assessment on whether the current quarantine procedures are truly affective against the new strain of covid19, the Delta variant, as it is known to be highly communicable. Senator Aren Palik also raised his concerns regarding the efficacy of the vaccines and whether they are effective against the new form of Covid19, the Delta variant. Senator Perman responded saying that the vaccines are effective against the Delta variant insomuch as reports have shown that those who were vaccinated and then later infected with the Delta variant showed better odds in surviving than those who were unvaccinated. The President also added that the nation is close to achieving herd immunity and with the recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), recently rolled out in the State of Kosrae, shows a promising outlook for achieving the nation’s goal of herd immunity sooner than later. Chairman Perman also mentioned that once the vaccines become approved for ages 12 and over, a priority vaccination campaign for our younger generation will be carefully considered.

Third item on the President’s agenda is the Supplemental Budget. The President reported to the Committee that there is currently a shortfall of $80,000 for personnel salaries and housing allowances; however, in this case no new money is being requested from the Congress, rather the executive is seeking congressional approval for the reallocation of existing funds to cover the shortfall.

Fourth item on the President’s agenda is notifying the Congress on the Executive’s upcoming visits to the states of Chuuk and Kosrae from September 20th to the 24th, 2021. The purpose of this event is to attend the gubernatorial inaugurations with the possibility of members of the Joint Committee on Compact & Planning (JCRP) in tow.

Fifth item on the President’s agenda is Pending Legislation. The President provided the Committee with a list of pending legislation that he wishes the Congress to address during this session, the following are the pending legislation:

1.  Cybercrime

2.  Non-Communicable Diseases

3.  Passport Extensions

4.  Bunkering and Provisioning

5.  Penalties for violated prohibited plastic materials

6.  Legislations to enhance Secretary of Finance’s tax enforcement capacity

7.  Rome Statute of International Criminal Court

8.  Safe release of sharks

9.  Maritime Surveillance Revolving Fund

The sixth item on the President’s agenda is a request to extend the Tourism Sector Mitigation Fund. It is projected that the local economy will still be affected by the pandemic in 2022, and the President is requesting the Congress to extend the Tourism Sector Mitigation Fund to assist the local businesses to June 30, 2022.

And finally, the last item on the President’s agenda is regarding the Low-Income Household Program, since its inception it has financially assisted upwards to 6,000 households as of this month. The Executive is requesting congressional approval for $2,000,000 in additional funding to assist 2000 more households, particularly those who were unable to apply for the benefits due to their location on the far outlying islands. To ensure those funds reach these households, the Executive will have in reserve of up to $500,000 for this specific purpose.

Another matter of importance raised by the President is the nearing expiration of the nation’s Public Health Declaration. The Executive is requesting the Congress to address the issue to extend the deadline up to January.

The President concluded the meeting and thanked the Members of the Committee to Wait with Chairman Perman thanking the President, on behalf of Congress, and stated that the Committee would share the President’s agenda with the Congress. The meeting concluded with mutual agreement to move forward on the above issues in a timely and cooperative manner.


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