PACIFIC MEDIA WATCHDOG URGES PALAU PRESIDENT TO LIFT GAG ON ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
The news of Palaus Presidential order banning the Attorney General from giving a legal opinion directly to those seeking it has spread across the Pacific. A regional media watchdog group, Pacific Freedom Forum, says this raises serious concerns over access to information and freedom of information for the island nation. The Presidents executive order bans the Attorney General from issuing a legal opinion on any matter unless it is specifically authorized by the President, the Minister of Justice and his Ministers. Even if a green light is given, the legal analysis still has to go back to the President for final clearance before it can issued. The Pacific media watch dog group has announced on its website its complete disapproval of what they tagged as the Presidents gag order. According to the Pacific Freedom Forum, gagging the Attorney General robs the Palauan people of their right to know and opens up room for speculation and misinformation. The lack of an explanation for the gag order also raises questions around timing as national elections are set for November 6. President Toribiong has been urged to reconsider the impact of his executive order and revoke it. In response the President issued a statement claiming this is not a gag order since it does not prevent access to public documents. In other words, the public’s lack of access to the AG is not unconstitutional because the public can still obtain public information or documents from the office. The President also explains that the executive order is appropriate since the Attorney General is counsel to the Executive Branch – headed by the President – and is not legal counsel for private citizens. The President has not addressed the issue of why the AG must first consult with the President or Ministers before rendering a legal opinion. The President has also not addressed how the AG, who has assumed the role of Special Prosecutor to investigate politicians in certain matters, is affected by this Presidential oversight. The statement from Pacific Freedom Forum also highlighted the question of campaigning by public officials who own media outlets without giving similar access to other political candidates. Radio New Zealand is also following this developing story.
Alan Seid in his citizen capacity sues Palau’s President & the government
On February 14, 2012, Alan Seid filed a six-count complaint against the President of Palau and the Republic. The lawsuit seeks to have the Court rule on whether the State of Emergency and the actions that the President took as a result of it are Constitutional. The action alleges that the fire at Aimeliik was a result of mismanagement and poor maintenance and that this does not qualify as a Constitutional reason to declare a state of emergency. The suit further challenges the President’s authority to place PPUC under the President’s control and to then authorize and appropriate $3 million to the utility company as an emergency procurement. Finally, the complaint asks the Court to declare that the President be personally and criminally liable to the Republic for all money damages as a result of his actions. In response to the lawsuit, the President explained that his declaration of an emergency was a result of a natural catastrophe, not unlike the collapse of the KB bridge when President Nakamura declared an emergency. He further explains that the emergency was affirmed by the OEK in a joint resolution and that as a result of the declared state of emergency, the President is granted emergency legislative and administrative powers. Finally, the President also questions the viability of the lawsuit as seeking an advisory opinion on a political question.
VP postpones HOD hearings due to travel plans
Last week Vice President and Minister of Finance Kerai Mariur responded to concerns from the Senate minority bloc by stating that he will go before a congressional oversight hearing rather than providing them the requested documents. This week the House of Delegates on ways and means and financial matters invited the Vice President to oversight hearings on matters related to over expenditures in the 2011 fiscal year and asked the VP to provide detailed explanations and reports on certain items, however, Vice President Mariur asked that the hearing be postponed till the end of March as he has travel commitments up until that period and furthermore, the HOD staff should be able to prepare all the reports and documents for the hearing based on all the reports the executive branch has already submitted to the OEK.
Water fatality near Ngerchong A Japanese tourist died from an apparent drowning in waters near Ngerchong reef yesterday. 47 year old Sato Singenobu, who reportedly was on vacation and staying at Palau Royal Resort, went on a tour with Aqua Magic dive shop when the drowning happened. Belau National Hospital has yet to release a report on the incident but police say no foul play was involved in the incident. Sadly, Mr. Singenobu was scheduled to leave last night back to Japan. Our condolences go out to his family and friends in Japan.
The Nat’l Gov’t continues to challenge the increased rock island & jellyfish lake fees
Koror State’s increased rock island fees from $25 to $50 and jellyfish lake fees from $35 to $100 are to take effect in June, 2012. This move has met great opposition from tour companies and the national government. In fact, the Administration “considers the move detrimental to the country’s tourism industry.” The Attorney General has declared the increased fees to be patently illegal and null and void since it was never submitted to the AG for review. Governor Adachi acknowledged that Koror State failed to send the law increasing the fees to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for review as is required by law; however, the Governor has since submitted the law for their review. Governor Adachi claims that the increase in fees is to offset the construction of summer houses, barbeque facilities, picnic tables and benches and bio-toilets that have been built. However, notably, Jellyfish Lake, one of the most trafficked tourist sites, still has no bathroom facilities and tourists and tour guides have recently complained that jellyfish lake has a distinct urine smell. On February 8, 2012, Minister Gibbons told Governor Adachi that the increased fee must be “justified” and that the national government still seeks detail of the upgrades, boats, equipment, additional rangers, or any other expenses that the fees would cover. Koror State has not yet responded with a detailed budgetary justification for its hike in fees.
ADB releases publication of healthcare financing program in Palau
On January 23rd 2012 the Asian Development Bank officially released a publication entitled Sustainable Health Care Financing in the Republic of Palau. In a transmittal to Vice-President Kerai Meriur, ADB Country Specialist Anthony Gill explains This publication celebrates the excellent work your government undertook in preparing and implementing the scheme. The publication is also intended to encourage other Pacific Island Countries to consider this approach. According to ADBs official website the publication describes the successful development in 2008 to 2009 of draft legislation aimed at reforming health care financing in Palau and its enactment by the legislature and signature by the President of the country in 2010. To see a full description of the publication or to download a free copy, visit adb.org/publications or the Social Security Administration’s website at ropssa.org.
The hour of sunset, one of the most enjoyable times of day in the islands, is fast losing its appeal in some parts of Palau due to large clouds of mosquitoes plaguing areas of Koror. The problem is especially noticeable in Malakal, where the water treatment facility is located. As mosquitoes require pools of water to lay their larvae in, the treatment facility is a prime breeding ground. Local restaurateur and bar owners, tour companies and other businesses are complaining that the pesky blood-suckers are driving customers away during peak Happy Hour times and many people in Palau are concerned about the risk of another Dengue outbreak, highlighted by the recent outbreaks in Yap. To find out more information, I spoke with community advocacy program representative Gaafar Uherbelau and local resident Torsten Schaudt regarding some possible preventative measures.
During our crews visit to the treatment plant we sampled the water to find thousands of larva in only a 2 gallon sample. We have tried for several days to get a comment from the Bureau of Public works who manage the treatment facility but there has been no statement. According to CAP the mosquitoes swarming Malakal while annoying, are not the type that carry dengue. If you have a mosquito experience story you would like to share please contact us a firstname.lastname@example.org
Proclamation signed to honor the late former Governor Lazarus Kodep
A presidential proclamation was made in honor of the late former governor Lazarus kodep for his public service. Former Governor Kodep was born on September 25, 1948 and passed away on January 26, 2012. His career in public service included teaching at Melekeok Elementary School for 14 years, serving as a legislature for Melekeok state for two terms, and serving the state as its governor for five terms. He also held the traditional title of Rechetaoch. The late Lazarus Kodep is survived by his wife Theola Erungel-Kodep, his children Jeffrey, Douglas, Dellan, Deinna and six grandchildren. President Toribiong signed the proclamation on February 14th and directed that flags be flown at half-mast in his memory for five days starting on February 15th.
New PPUC board conducts 1st official meeting
After being sworn in this week the newly organized PPUC Board of Directors conducted their first official meeting today February 16, 2012. Each Board Director will serve for a term of 3 years. The Board of Directors are Chairman Temmy Shmull, Vice Chairman Clarence Masayos and Secretary slash Treasurer Jennifer Koskelin Gibbons. On January 31, 2012 the Senate through Resolution Number 8 dash 242 confirmed these three Presidential appointments to serve as a member of the PPUC Board
of Directors. There are still two remaining vacant seats in which the President is yet to nominate to.
Japan Grant for school bus officialized
On Valentines day Japans Ambassador Yoshiyuki Sadaoka and Melekeok Elementary School Prinicpal Magaria Tellei signed documents formally officializing a grant to procure a brand new 30 seater microbus for the school. The signing ceremony was held at the Japan Embassy and witnessed by Ministry of Education officials. Here’s a clip of the ceremony.
Japan Embassy holds Film Festival
The Embassy of Japan announces the Japanese Film Festival 2012 in Palau. The film festival is open to public and free of charge. All the films will be played in Japanese with English subtitles and light snacks will be served. In Koror NODO-JIMAN, a heart-warming comedy will be shown on Wednesday February 22nd at 630pm at the Koror State Assmebly Hall. Then in Peleliu a screening of the comedy movie MY SECRET CACHE will be shown on Friday March 2nd at 630pm at the Peleliu state office. On Saturday March 3rd Nodo Jiman plays at 630pm followed by My Secret Cache at 830pm at Peleliu State office again. On Thursday March 8th My Secret Cache will be shown at 630pm at the Ibobang Bai.
National Emergency Operation Center unveils plaque
The office of the vice president and the national emergency management office will hold a small unveiling ceremony for the National emergency operation center plaque next tuesday February 21st at ten a.m. Funding for the plaque was made possible through a grant from the European Union. The director of SOPAC, SPC, Russell Howorth who oversees the implementation of the funding will be in attendance at this ceremony along with other dignitaries and guests. The NEOC building is located across the ARFF facility at the Palau International Airport..
Greenpeace praises Palau for fining Taiwan vessel
Last December Palauan fisheries officials boarded and detained a Taiwanese fishing vessel during a joint patrol with Greenpeace of Palaus exclusive economic zone. The Taiwanese flagged fishing vessel has since been fined $65,000 and banned for one year from fishing in Palaus waters. Greenpeace oceans team leader Lagi Toribau said it was courageous of the Palau government to take a stand to enforce fisheries regulations and bring illegal pirate fishing operations to justice. Greenpeace is now calling on the Taiwanese government, as the responsible flag state, to better regulate its fishing industry. Mr Toribau also urged other Pacific Island Governments to stand together in solidarity at the upcoming Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Guam for the protection of their ocean resources against illegal fishing vessels. He added that foreign fleets must reduce their fishing by half and agree to the closure of common areas of high seas that border a dozen Pacific Island countries to all fishing.
Nauru – 1st country to receive deep seabed minerals license
An exploration company called Nauru Ocean Resources Incorporation or NORI has been granted the right to explore for deep seabed minerals in the International Seabed Area by International Seabed Authority. This makes Nauru the first in the Pacific to secure such a license. With limited seabed mineral resources inside its Exclusive Economic Zone, the license gives NORI the right to explore an area beneath international waters, at estimated depths of sixteen thousand feet or more. Countries own the resources within their EEZs, the area of sea and ocean floor within 200 nautical miles as measured from a countrys shoreline, but the vast expanses of sea floor beyond countries EEZs is called the International Seabed Area, or simply, the Area. The United Nations created International Seabed Authority administers the Area for the benefit of all nations, and is also responsible for the issuing of licenses for exploration of mineral resources beneath international waters.
Tongan Government commits to Freedom of Information Policy and an Anti-Corruption Commission
Members of the Tongan Government, public service, civil society and media came together in Nuku alofa this week to discuss the Governments proposal for a national Freedom of Information policy. The policy is a key step in the Governments push towards greater accountability as part of its ongoing democratic reform process. The Government is cultivating the trust of the people by introducing its FOI policy, and it is promoting integrity by initiating the implementation of the Anti-corruption Commission Act. The public has until March 5th 2012 to provide feedback on the FOI Policy Discussion Paper. The Ministry then plans to finalize the Government in March before it is formally launched and it will then be the foundation for work on actual FOI legislation, which then entrench the legal right to information for all Tongans.
THE END OF CONTINENTAL AIRLINES
The establishment of air routes in former US trust territories was probably the single most important factor in the development of this region. Continental Air Micronesia began in the Pacific in 1968 and was known as Air Micronesia or Air Mike. Eventually Continental owned 100 percent of Air Mike. As a result of an airline merger between Continental and United, on March 3, 2011, the Continental brand will no longer be used and tickets will no longer be issued in the Continental name. Both carriers will use only the United name for issuing tickets. Furthermore, both carriers will use only the UA United Airlines IATA designator code for all publicly available information. Along with the name change airline ticket prices have gone up in the region. OTV did some research on ticket prices and this is what we found. United Airline Prices in the Pacific on line are as followed: a Round Trip ticket from Los Angeles to Guam which is 12,178 Miles Costs $1,551 and breaks down to 13 cents Per mile. Los Angeles to Hawaii Round Trip which is 5,110 Miles costs $406 which is 8 cents per mile. Guam to Palau Round Trip is 1,906 Miles and costs $953 which equals to a whopping 50 cents per mile. Guam to Yap Round Trip is Cost: $707.36 and Guam to Pohnpei Round Trip is 2,020 Miles and Costs $1.050.36 equivalent to another whopping 52 cents per mile. Marshall Islands to Hawaii Round Trip is 4,600 Miles and Costs $1,132.90 equivalent to 29 cents Per mile.
WHO calls for final push against leprosy
On Monday the World Health Organization warned that the battle against leprosy is not yet over, with more than 5,000 new cases reported yearly in the Western Pacific, where the disease was declared eliminated in 1991. According to WHO, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Kiribas are three of 37 countries in the region that have failed to meet the target of lowering cases to less than one per 10,000 people. The Philippines was declared largely free of leprosy in 1998 yet still sees some 2,000 new cases recorded yearly. There are more cases found among the lower classes because they have less access to health services.
LONG-TERM FUTURE OF SPC UNDER REVIEW
The Secretariat of the South Pacific Community is poised to review its key strategic direction for the next fifty years. An independent, external review process will take place over the next three months. An Experts Reference Group that leads the Independent Review was at the SPC headquarters in Noumea for five days and are now in Fiji. The Experts Reference Group will be presenting its findings to the Independent Review Team, who will make assessments and recommendations as to the key services SPC should focus on delivering in the coming 10 to 20 years. Since its inception 65 years ago, SPC has evolved from a post World War II agency, created by colonial powers to assist in the administration of the Pacific Island territories and protectorates, as well as help the people living there. It is now an organization that employs 300 scientists, technicians and specialists to help address growing threats to the region that include climate change, food security, water, sanitation and health issues, and natural disasters.
President Obama requests $575.3 Million to U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States for FY2013
U.S. President Obama has proposed a fiscal year 2013 budget of $575.3 million for the Office of Insular Affairs, the Department of the Interior office that strives to empower U.S.affiliated insular communities and encourage economic activity and growth. The budget includes 238.9 million in payments to the Freely Associated States under the Compact of Free Association legislation, including 68 million for the Marshall Islands, 106.9 million for the Federated States of Micronesia, 34 million for Palau, and 30 million for Compact Impact. On September 3, 2010, the U.S. Government and the Government of Palau successfully concluded their review of the Compact of Free Association and signed a 15 year extension agreement that includes a 250 million dollar package of assistance through 2024.
New outer islands mayor breaks ground
It is rare for a person to accept a new job that requires a 50 percent pay cut. It is even rarer to find a person who is enthusiastic about it.
Despite this being the case for new Ebon Atoll Mayor Ione deBrum, she is bubbling with excitement about the new work ahead for her. Stepping down from many years of employment with the RMI government, deBrum is also breaking ground as a long-time Majuro resident moving from the urban center to an outer atoll.
DeBrum plans to move to Ebon for the duration of her four-year term. She is keen to work on a variety of improvements, including expanding food production, screening for diabetes and stepping up illness prevention, and developing agreements with the Ministry of Education for its outer island schools. Mayor deBrum sees income generating activity as key to improving life on the atoll.
Marshalls’ ministries have hard time spending US Compact money
The Ministry of Education is having a difficult time spending all of the funding provided to it through the Compact of Free Association. It ended fiscal year 2011 with close to 800 thousand dollars in unspent Compact funding.
Education Secretary Gary Ueno believes virtually all of the unspent US Compact funding last year was for personnel who were not hired.
He suspects that 100 percent of the unspent Compact sector funds is for vacancies the Ministry of Education wanted to fill but just could not get the Public Service Commission to fill the posts. Since the new Compact started in 2004, the Ministry of Education has spent all of its Compact funding only one year. Unspent money is rolled over to a future year. Meanwhile, 2011 marked the third year in a row that the Ministry of Health spent all of its Compact funding. The Ministries of Education and Health receive the largest shares of US provided grant funds under the Compact.
State and National Leadership Conference held in Pohnpei
Leaders from Executive and Legislative Branches of each of the Federated States of Micronesia State Governments and the FSM National Government met on issues of FSM national importance at the College of Micronesia FSM National Campus from February 1st to 3rd. Heres a few photos from that meeting. No outcome of the meetings have yet been released.
CYBER SAFETY PASIFIKA
Efforts to protect the Pacific internet community from becoming victims of cyber crime are being implemented through the joint efforts of the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police or PICP, The Australian Federal Police or AFP and the National Rugby League. The Federated States of Micronesia, The Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga are piloting a new program that aims to provide police in Pacific Island countries with training and resources to educate their communities in all aspects of cyber safety. The organizers of the program commented to PSnews.com that they felt having high profile Pacific players involved in the project would help promote positive and safe messages. As improved access to the internet continues to increase across the region, Manager of Cyber Crime Operations with the AFP Commander Grant Edwards said that internet users need to be informed of how they can enjoy the benefits and minimize risks online.
Palau meets Hollywood
This month Palau meets tinseltown with the release of two films and an international television series filming here on location. Heres Rondy with a recap.
UNESCO Art Contest
UNESCO is inviting young people aged between 18 and 24 years to make their voices heard in the 2012 Global Monitoring Report and to win a trip to its Headquarter in France. UNESCO wants your opinion to influence the 2012 Report read by policy makers all over the world. Make your voice heard by submitting your thoughts in the form of photos, drawings, paintings, computer generated images, etc. Each artwork should be accompanied by a short artist biography and description of the work in relation to the theme of the contest on youth, skills and work. Submissions can be in electronic format or on paper. Deadline is April 1st 2012. Submit your entry by that date because the first prize is a trip to Paris, France, including accommodation, to participate in an event publicizing the artwork and to meet with the Global Monitoring Report team. Further information about the Report can be found on the website: www.efareport.unesco.org<http://www.efareport.unesco.org/>