Committee to Wait on President discusses Pending Nominations & Legislations among others

PALIKIR, POHNPEI. November 18, 2021.  The Second Special Session of the 22nd Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia convened on November 15, 2021,as set by Speaker Wesley W. Simina to discuss nominations, appropriations & pending legislation among others.

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 Senator Isaac V. Figir, Senator Robson U. Romolow & 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.  Funding for the Chief of Staff

2.  Pending Nominations

3.  Supplemental Budget

4.  Pending Legislations

5.  Grants Pending

First item on the President’s agenda is the reinstatement of funding for the position of Chief of Staff . The President raised his concerns regarding funding for the Chief of Staff position, formerly held by Leo Falcam, Jr. In a previous session, the Congress retracted funding for the Chief of Staff position on the premise that he will be receiving funding by the Joint Committee on Compact Review and Planning (JCRP) as the FSM Chief Negotiator for the ongoing negotiations on the expiring provisions of the Amended Compact of Free Association. The President informed the Committee that the President’s Office will be seeking appointment and requesting the Congress to reinstate funding for the position.

The next item on the agenda is a Covid19 update by the President. The President was pleased to inform the Committee that as of now, the FSM has reached its goal for full vaccinations for the general population at 70%. The President also stated that the States of Kosrae and Yap have begun vaccinations for ages 5-11, with Chuuk and Pohnpei to receive the vaccinations for adolescents within the coming weeks. Repatriation flights are currently ongoing with the following dates scheduled according to each state; Kosrae State on November 15th; Pohnpei State on December 1st; Chuuk State on November 29th; and with the State of Yap on November 28th. All other flights will resume shortly after the New Year.

Third item on the agenda is the Supplemental Budget. The President was advised by the Secretary of Transportation Communications & Infrastructure (TC&I), Mr. Carlson Apis that despite the already appropriated funding of $250,000 for a plane, manufacturer model designation ‘islander’, an additional ‘islander’ is needed to accommodate the hectic transportation needs of the country due to the restrictions placed on United Airlines. The cost of the 2 ‘islanders’ is $600,000 and the president is requesting Congress’s approval to fund the difference.

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.    Freedom of Information Act

2.    Cybercrime Bill

3.    Non-Communicable Diseases

4.    Passport Extensions

5.    Bunkering and Provisioning

6.    Penalties for Importing/ Violating Prohibited Plastic Materials

7.    Legislation to Enhance Secretary of Finance’s Tax Enforcement Capacity

8.    Rome Statute of International Criminal Court

9.    Safe Release of Sharks

10. Maritime Surveillance Revolving Fund

11. Maternity Leave

And the final item on the agenda are grants pending before the Congress. A $200,000 grant for the Office of Special Education under the Department of Education and another grant in the amount of $500,000 from the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs for the FY2021 Single Audit are top of the executive’s requests of grants for the Congress to approve.

 

Other congressional matters of importance discussed with the President

One of the concerns of the Congress that Chairman Perman conveyed to the President is the sudden recall of the Japanese Ambassador to return to Japan, the President assured the Committee that the recall is quite normal in this case and is a matter of the ambassador reaching Japan’s mandatory retirement age. In another diplomatic matter that the President wished to inform the Committee is the new U.S. policy permitting only 4 years of diplomatic status of all personnel staff below ambassador level. The President has tasked the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Khandi Eliasar to look into the matter.

In another issue raised by the President is the price negotiation for the quarantine location in the State of Chuuk with the proprietors of the Blue Lagoon Resort. The establishment raised the price from the initial negotiation for the use of Blue Lagoon Resort, but eventually a reasonable agreement was reached between the FSM National Government and Blue Lagoon Resort for the duration of 33 days. The President stated that several repatriations can be accommodated within the 33 days duration with the first group who arrived on November 15, 2021 with 19 individuals and an expected group of 40 individuals will be on the next repatriation flight.

For the airstrip projects in Chuuk & Yap states, Mr. Carlson Apis, Secretary of TC&I provided an update and informed the Committee that the contractor, ABCOR for the Woleai airstrip who initially secured the bid for the project has taken no action up to this date. The President for the best interests of the nation has determined that if the delay continues, the government will incur costs over time and will have no option but to terminate the contract with ABCOR. As for the TA airstrip, Secretary Apis reported to the Committee that the department has submitted a rebidding proposal with an available funding of $2,000,000. The Onoun airstip came into discussion as Congress foresees the airstip as a potential location for emergency landings.

A contract between the FSMTC and FSM Congress is in the works, however before moving forward with the project to have separate lines directly from FSM Congress to FSMTC, Mr. Eugene Amor, Secretary of Finance & Administration warned that if the project is a duplication of effort, it might lose its World Bank Funding. Secretary Apis informed the Committee that he is currently working with Mr. Suda Rayel, Director of Administration of the FSM Congress to ensure that the contract is consistent with the National Government’s contract with FSM Telecom, without violating the terms and conditions set forth by the World Bank.

An update by the President for the Committee on the Eastern Micronesia Cable project (EMC) stated that Kiribati, Nauru & Kosrae have agreed to move forward with the implementation of the project using the World Bank Framework with Australia willing to provide funding of $46,000,000. Funding for the states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei & Kosrae are available for the fiber-to-home project; however, Pohnpei has not come on board but has the option of joining at a later date.

In regards to FSM’s membership with PIF along with those members who withdrew, Senator Robson U. Romolow informed the President and the Committee that to his understanding the FSM has formally withdrawn from PIF. The President responded that during the Micronesian Presidents Summit (MPS) that certain reforms were being considered in efforts to persuade those member countries to come back into the fold.

And finally, for Low Income, Stimulus, Congress Appropriations & Issues; Secretary Amor reported that as of next month the appropriation of $2,500,000 will be utilized for Low Income and Stimulus funding, however Secretary Amor did not give a current and detailed balance of the accounts. Chairman Perman raised concerns with communication issues between certain members of the Congress and the Department of Finance & Administration regarding Project Control Documents (PCDs) and the unresponsiveness of the department. Chairman Perman informed the President that it has become problematic and hopes to resolve the issue soon. For appropriations, Senator Romolow requested the President to expedite funds for a servicing vessel that has been awaiting payment. The President responded by tasking Mr. Joses Gallen, Secretary of Department of Justice and Mr. Carlson Apis, Secretary of TC&I to expedite the procurement process to finalize ownership of the vessel.

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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