Micronesian Women address common issues in the region
On Wednesday August 1, women leaders from around the Micronesian region gathered at the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center in Palau for the inaugural Micronesian Regional Women’s Summit. Several social, political, traditional and economical issues were covered in a number of sessions during the three-day event. Sustainable Economy, Entrepreneurship and poverty were among the topics discussed during a breakout session. Six presenters covered the topic including Jackie Marati of Bank of Guam and Kathleen Henderix of Vital Voices that addressed the issue of Pacific women working to ensure that the Pacific region doesn’t get left behind or overrun by the globalization of economic markets. The session also addressed the issue of encouraging Pacific Women to be more confident in pursuing economic ventures that are often viewed as too risky to undertake. Lisa Abraham of the Palau Small Business Development Center noted that while most of the clients seeking services from her organization are women, only 5% of those women actually end up opening up businesses in Palau. The session concluded with the acknowledgement that adding value to Pacific products and building stronger partnerships to promote Pacific-made products needs to be a priority in the region to ensure future sustainable livelihoods in the region. The summit concluded on August 3 with the signing of the communiqué.
Palau President nominates his Assistant AG as Special Prosecutor
It has been nearly 2 1/2 years since the departure of Palau’s last Special Prosecutor, Micheal Copeland, who resigned in 2010. During this vacancy period, many outspoken critics of the President, including the minority Senators, have complained that the absence of a Special Prosecutor during the Toribiong Administration has been intentional. In defense, the President has explained that he submitted a suitable candidate for Special Prosecutor but the nominee was rejected without reason by the Senate. The President has since held steadfast that he will not submit another nominee to be subjected to similar scrutiny and possible rejection. In a letter dated August 1, 2012, the President now sees fit to make another Special Prosecutor nomination and has put forth his current Assistant AG Brently Foster to be the next Republic’s independent Special Prosecutor. Unlike the Attorney General’s Office, who works under the direction of the President, the President is expressly prohibited from interfering with the Special Prosecutor’s decisions or actions. Whether the President’s current legal staff member can serve conflict-free as the nation’s independent counsel poses interesting legal and ethical questions about the role and function of the Special Prosecutor.
Palau Court Finds President’s “Emergency” Action Unconstitutional
Hours after the hearing held before the Chief Justice on the matter of Alan Seid v. President Johnson Toribiong, a 15-page decision was rendered finding that none of the defenses raised by the President barred Seid’s action. The Court stated that the doctrine of sovereign immunity does not preclude a suit against the President wherein the President unconstitutionally declared that the Republic was under a state of emergency as a result of the fire at the Aimeliik Power Plant. The Court found that the President can only declare a state of emergency in a limited number of circumstances, specifically enumerated by the Constitution and that a “fire caused by human error falls outside of the language” of the Constitution. The Court also said that OEK ratification of the President’s action was of no consequence and that the Congress cannot make the President’s unconstitutional act valid. The Court ended its decision stating that the President himself “could not have reasonably believed his actions were constitutional.” The case will continue on its merits where Alan Seid, acting without a lawyer, will seek damages for the President’s actions.
Clinton’s security scope out Cooks
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could be making her first ever visit to the Cook Islands to attend this year’s Pacific Leaders Forum at the end of August. While the prime minister’s office could not conclusively confirm Clinton will make an appearance, they did confirm an advance team is scoping out Rarotonga for security threats. “We can’t confirm the visit because the US embassy has not confirmed yet,” says the prime minister’s office chief executive Edwin Pittman. “But, yes, security has been scoping the island.” The advance team also needs to find appropriate accommodation for Clinton and her delegation. Prime Minister Henry Puna flew to New Zealand last week to discuss the American secretary of state’s potential visit with NZ foreign affairs minister Murray McCully. Hillary Clinton has never been to the Cook Islands and as the US are post-forum dialogue partners, this is being seen as the best time for her to visit. It is believed to be more likely than not that she will attend the post-forum dialogue – a sign of America’s increasing interest in the Pacific region. If Clinton does attend the gathering in Rarotonga, it is expected scores of extra foreign media will descend on the Cook Islands. Already around 80 journalists and photographers are expected to attend.
Palau Media Thrown Out of Budget Meeting And Notes Seized
On Monday July 23, 2012, Salvador Tellames, owner and host of Palau Wave Radio, was reportedly thrown out of the Palau’s Old Senate Building while he was observing the national leadership meeting on the budget for his daily newscast report. The meeting was assembled by the President with the Council of Chiefs and the Palau Governors Association in attendance. Tellames claims he was invited into the building and sat in the observation balcony alongside members of the President’s senior staff. The observation balcony was actually guarded by presidential security, Cliff Soalablai, who allegedly waved Tellames into the balcony section. However, within about 10 minutes, Tellames was asked to leave the meeting by Jordan Malsol, who reportedly explained that the meeting was closed to the public and that if he did not leave he would be physically removed by police officers. As Tellames was leaving, Malsol demanded he turn over his notepad, but Tellames ripped off the three pages containing his notes before the notepad was seized. Fermin Meriang, President’s Press Secretary, in his letter dated July 30 explains that no one physically removed Tellames or tore his notes. He reportedly snuck into the meeting through the back door where he made his way to the gallery after the President’s Secretary advised him that the meeting was closed. Meriang further noted that it is not uncommon for leaders to close their meetings; the purpose is for them to speak freely about sensitive matters without fear that it would be leaked to the public. The Palau Constitution provides that a citizen has the right to observe the official deliberations of the government. The Constitution also protects freedom of the press. President Toribiong was one of the drafters of Palau’s Constitution.
High-level U.S delegation visits the Pacific
High-level U.S delegation this week is visiting the Pacific in their second annual inter-agency visit. Among the delegates is assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Cecil Haney. The group started their visit in Tonga in the beginning of the week then on to Kiribati, to the Republic of Marshall Islands to FSM and now visiting Palau. The delegation will conclude their visit in the Pacific in the Solomon Islands on August 6th. According to U.S Department of State, the visit to the Pacific underscores the US’ commitment to work with the Pacific to secure a sustainable, prosperous and peaceful future. During their visit in Palau, Campbell, Haney and the rest of the U.S delegation will hold a joint press conference with Palauan officials.
Department of Interior Announces Grant Award to PEACE and Cleared Ground
With the arrival of the United States Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta, came the announcement that the Department of Interior has awarded $120,000 worth of grant money to two NGO’s in Palau. The Pacific Endowment for Peace Culture and Environment (PEACE) was the recipient of $20,000 to continue to produce marketing material on the effects of climate change. This follows on the success of the recently published book on public health Impacts of Climate Change. Cleared Ground was also funded for the continued removal of explosive ordinances in Peleliu in the amount of $100,000.
Koror State ordered to pay $37.8K to demoted and fired employees
Koror State Government has been ordered to pay lost wages, benefits and damages totaling over $37,000 to Alan Marbou, Darwin Inabo, Cleafas Iyar, Lamp Minor and Misia Orrukem who won their lawsuit against Koror State last month. The court found that Koror State Government and Governor Yositaka Adachi wrongfully terminated Orrukem and Marbou, and wrongfully demoted Minor, Iyar and Inabo, and violated their freedom of expression. Of the five defendants, Misia Orrukem will be receiving the most in lost wages and benefits that totals $17,500. The five employees filed a lawsuit against Koror State Government and its Governor, after being fired and demoted for expressing their support to opponent Alan Seid during the 2010 Koror State Election.
Pacific attends meeting to move forward water and sanitation initiatives
Palau delegates PAN Coordinator Joe Aitaro and Lynna Thomas Palau’s Project Manager for the IWRM demonstration project are meeting in Nadi, Fiji this week for the 4th Regional Steering committee Meeting for the Pacific Integrated Water Resources Management Programme. Palau delegates including delegates from 11 other Pacific island countries are in Nadi to discuss the progress of the IWRM demonstration project in the last three years in each respective nation. During the opening ceremony, Fiji’s Minister for Primary Industries urged Pacific countries to identify areas where they could scale up the work started by the demonstration projects and do more to access GEF funding for biodiversity conservation, land degradation and climate change adaptation. The meeting concludes on Friday August 3.
Family violence and youth justice conference held
Palau Judiciary and the Pacific Judicial Development Programme recently conducted a four-day conference on family violence and youth justice in the country. During the conference, the participants created a memorandum of understanding recognizing that domestic violence is an important issue that requires a cohesive and concerted response, and agreed to work with existing laws and local agencies to address the issue. Another issue discussed during the conference is youth justice. Discussions included understanding brain development, looking at New Zealand Youth Court practice and identifying solutions. Conference facilitators include New Zealand’s Family Court Chief Judge and District Court Judge, Pacific Prevention Domestic Violence Programme Inspector and PJDP Programme Manager.
US to propose more bombers, submarines to Guam
US Pentagon planners are considering adding more bombers and attack submarines as part of a growing U.S focus security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. US deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans told lawmakers that they are taking another look at sending more muscle to Guam now that it has been recommended by an independent review of US regional military plans. The new assessment of the US military’s position in the region was carried out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies or CSIS that recommended stationing one or more additional attack submarines in Guam to provide an edge against anti-access, area denial technologies being developed by China. CSIS also recommended permanently relocating a squadron of 12 aircraft to Guam rather than the current practice of rotating in from bases in the US. However, neither additional bombers nor additional attack submarines in the US’ current plans for the region, but according to the Defense Department they will be considered.
RMI to make US money push at annual finance talks
The Marshall Islands will be pushing to get United States government’s support on key funding issues at an annual U.S. grant funding consultation later this month. Acting President Phillip Muller said the RMI government is aggressively pursuing several initiatives related to US funding that will launch urgently needed developments on Ebeye Island and help stabilize the government’s financial situation in the post-2023 period when U.S. grant funding is scheduled to end. The Marshall Islands will be seeking agreement on three money issues at the Joint Economic Management and Financial Accountability Committee meeting scheduled for August 23 in Honolulu. Muller said RMI will be seeking support to extend American grant funding for an additional two years beyond the 2023 expiration. In addition, RMI is asking the U.S. government to authorize the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority to use guaranteed annual Compact funding as collateral to front-load funding so that it can engage in large-scale or multiple projects on Ebeye Island at the same time.
Pacific take part in Taiwan regional observation training
Pacific Island countries are taking part in the 2012 Regional Fishery Observation Training Program in Southern Taiwan to strengthen cooperative relations and increase employment opportunities in fishery. A total of 22 recruits from Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu are participating in a 3-week program that will cover identification of different marine species, fishing operations safety, survival skills at sea and international fisheries law. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs the program will also provide an opportunity for Taiwanese purse seine operators to employ observers from Pacific nations and enhance observers understanding of fishing operations in Taiwan. Upon completing the training and passing certification, the trainees are then certified for deployment on vessels.
Project to explore renewable options in the Pacific
The US Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs has formed a partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NREL to explore renewable energy and energy efficiency options in the US Pacific territories. The partnership will help territories reduce their dependence on imported oil and alleviate the high cost of such dependence. DOI is also in the process of developing a separate agreement with NREL to address renewable energy opportunities in the Freely Associated States. Similar to the effort underway in the Pacific territories, under the new agreement Insular Affairs will fund NREL to work closely with FAS leaders to complete technical energy assessments, establish energy stakeholders group, conduct workshops and created individualized energy action plans to identify the most appropriate and feasible energy options for each country.
Room for improvement to access safe drinking water
Lack of investment and trained staff prevents water quality testing in a number of Pacific Island countries according to the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (PASAI). The report found that most Pacific Island countries have legal and policy frameworks in place to ensure access to safe drinking water, however frameworks have not been successfully implemented in some areas. According to PASAI, access to safe drinking water was selected as the audit topic due its vital importance and the unique conditions faced in the Pacific. The report also highlights opportunities to improve all aspects of performance in managing access to safe drinking water. Pacific nations that participated in the audit included Palau, Kiribati, FSM, Tuvalu and six others.
Sea Shepherd founder flees Germany, wanted in Japan
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder Paul Watson, who is known for his campaigns against shark finning and whale hunting, has fled Germany while on bail. Watson was banned from leaving Germany and ordered to report twice a day to Frankfurt police, but has failed to do so since July 22. According to his attorney, he left Germany for an unknown destination. Frankfurt police and the public prosecutor’s office continue to search for Watson in Germany stating, “we do not know where Watson is at the moment. His arrest warrant is only valid in Germany, where we keep searching for him, and his exemption from arrest had been lifted.” After being freed on a $300,000-dollar bail, Watson made a brief appearance at a protest coinciding with a visit by Costa Rican President, who promised him a fair trial if he is extradited. News of Watson’s flee reached Japan, where Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary confirmed that the Japan government had tentatively submitted a request to incarcerate Watson for further investigation before he broke bail. Watson was on bail waiting for possible extradition to Costa Rica over charges stemming from his campaign against shark finning in 2002.
2nd Palauan to teach in Japan through JET programme
On Tuesday July 31, Japan Ambassador Yoshiyuki Sadaoka formally confirmed the selection of Kate Oiph Weers to participate in this year’s Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. According to the Japan Embassy, Kate will serve a one-year contract in Japan as an assistant English language teacher at a local high school. She previously received teachers training in Japan through the Japan Teacher Training Scholarship, and will have an easier adjustment time to Japan climate and culture. Deidre Yamanguchi was the first Palauan to teach in Japan through the JET programme.