POHNPEI, PALIKIR. The Third Special Session of the 22nd Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia convened on December 13, 2022, for the duration of 5 days, as set by Speaker Wesley W. Simina to discuss nominations, appropriations & pending legislation among other matters.
Following the formalities to open and convene a session, Speaker Simina appointed Vice Speaker Esmond B. Moses to head the Committee to Wait on the President with congressional members Senator Isaac V. Figir, Senator Aren B. Palik & Senator Perpetua S. Konman.
The meeting began with President David W. Panuelo welcoming the Members of the Committee attending, present as well were members of the Executive staff. Vice Speaker Moses 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. Covid19 Update
4. East Micronesia Cable
5. Supplemental Budget
6. Pending Legislation
7. Grants Pending
First item on the President’s agenda is revisiting the President’s wish for the Congress to reinstate funding for the position of Chief of Staff, and reiterated to the Committee that the former Chief of Staff, Leo Falcam, Jr. who is currently the Chief Negotiator for the compact negotiations is being sourced by the JCRP and that the Chief of Staff position is currently vacant.
The next item on the agenda is pending nominations from the previous session along with a new nomination that of Mr. Nena Ned to represent Kosrae on the board of Directors of the FSM Social Security Board.
The third item on the agenda is regarding personnel tasked for the repatriation process in Guam who are requesting leave during this festive season to spend time with family. With this request, the President has tasked the Secretary of Health and Social Affairs to place a notification on this “repatriation break” to the general public so citizens planning on traveling back to the FSM may be informed of this new development and to make plans accordingly. As of now, the only state preparing for repatriation for this month is Chuuk State. On a slightly different yet important note is an update on the country’s Covid19 vaccinations status; as it stands, vaccinations for ages 18 and older have reached above 90% when factoring in the outmigration population. The President also indicated that an active vaccination campaign is currently in place within the states of Chuuk and Yap for adolescents ages 18 and under.
The fourth item on the President’s agenda is the King Tide flooding within the low-lying islands of the individual states. A King Tide is a non-scientific term used to describe exceptionally high tides that occur during a new or full moon. The President informed the Committee that the states of Chuuk and Yap have issued Emergency Declarations and have submitted damage assessments. The damage assessment according to each state is as follows: for the state of Chuuk with $3.2 million in damages; the state of Yap with damages totaling $400,000; and the states of Pohnpei and Kosrae have not issued Emergency Declarations.
The fifth item on the agenda is an Eastern Micronesian Cable (EMC) progress update. In a recent meeting with the President and the three resident ambassadors of the United States, Japan & Australia, an agreement was reached that the three countries would assist the FSM in funding the $80 million needed for the EMC project to be implemented in 2023. An issue was raised by Senator Aren B. Palik on what would happen to the World Bank funding that had provisions for funding the EMC project, the President replied that the World Bank funding for the EMC project would be redirected to other areas to improving the telecommunication sector of the FSM.
The next item on the President’s agenda is supplemental budget requests. The President advised the committee that he is discouraging further supplemental budget requests as it is still early in the fiscal year 2022.
The seventh item on the President’s agenda is Pending Legislation. The President stated his appreciation to the Congress in passing the Maternity Leave legislation from last session. The President then 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
And the eighth item on the agenda are grants pending before the Congress. A $250,000 grant for the Office of Special Education under the Department of Education and another grant in the amount of $5 million from the Asian Development Bank for the FSM sustainable road infrastructure investment project are top of the executive’s requests of grants for Congress to approve.
Other congressional matters of importance discussed with the President
On international matters, the President informed the Committee on his efforts in opening an Office for the European Union in the FSM, and that the FSM is now officially a member of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). A delegation of FSM law enforcement personnel has been tasked out to Istanbul, Turkey to train and work with INTERPOL in instruments needed to be installed in the FSM.
The President concluded the meeting and thanked the Members of the Committee to Wait with members of the Committee 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.
* * *