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Regional News

FSM president meets with Chuuk leaders

WENO, Chuuk (FSM Information Services) — Prior to his first official visit to the State of Chuuk, David W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, called for a meeting with Chuuk’s leadership to emphasize the nation’s unity and the FSM national government’s commitment to serving the respective FSM state governments in addressing citizens’ needs, to update them on recent accomplishments, such as the visit in May with U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the purchase of land for the development of the Faichuk Post Office, goals for the administration, such as an aggressive foreign policy and environmental protection regime, and — more pertinently — to determine what Chuuk State needs in areas such as infrastructure development.

Among other outcomes, President Panuelo advocated for the $60 million of incoming World Bank assistance to be focused on road development, and encouraged additional economic development focus in the regions of Faichuk and Tonoas.

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From left, Wesley W. Simina, speaker of the Congress of the FSM; David W. Panuelo, president of the FSM; and Johnson S. Elimo, governor of the FSM State of Chuuk.  FSMIS photo

President Panuelo was received on July 12, 2019 by Johnson S. Elimo, governor of the State of Chuuk, Mark Mailo, president of Chuuk State’s Senate, Innocente Oneisom, speaker of the Chuuk State Legislature, Camillo Noket, chief justice of the Chuuk State Supreme Court, and the vast majority of Chuuk’s representatives and senators, including several of its municipal mayors. Also in attendance were the Wesley W. Simina, the speaker of the Congress of the FSM and at-large senator for Chuuk State, as well as Derensio S. Konman and Victor V. Gouland, both senators in the FSM Congress representing the State of Chuuk.

Chief Justice Noket provided the opening remarks. “I welcome you to my village [Iras], and also to Chuuk…I want to thank you, [President Panuelo] for assisting the court,” Chief Justice Noket said. “And…please fix our road.”

President Paneulo noted that, through World Bank assistance, approximately $60 million of infrastructure funding is coming into the FSM. President Panuelo advised that, in his conversations with Pohnpei State, he advocated for the funding to be used primarily for the development and maintenance of Pohnpei’s roads; would Chuuk State Government want the same thing?

Governor Elimo was enthusiastic in his response. “With regards to that 60 million from World Bank you mentioned,” Governor Elimo said, “I would love to go with the road projects.”

President Panuelo also brought up other infrastructure development topics, including the Integrated Coconut Processing Facility on Tonoas. “I think it’s going to be one of the most viable projects for the FSM, and it’s important that we push it forward,” President Paneulo said. Additionally, the president highlighted that the relationship between FSM Petroleum Corporation and SoftBank Corporation — which is involved in renewable energy — can ensure that residents of Tonoas not only have improved access to career opportunities, but also equitable access to affordable electricity.

President Panuelo noted that he intended to visit the coconut plant the following day, and that the FSM national government is prepared to assist Chuuk State however it can in ensuring the timely implementation of public infrastructure projects.

Subsequently, another segment of the discussion was regarding the backlog of approximately $197 million in infrastructure funding sourced through the Compact of Free Association, as Amended, of which approximately $80 million is for the State of Chuuk.

Governor Elimo first explained that the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs, a component within the U.S. Department of Interior which, through the COFA and the Joint Economic Committee process, determines the rules for the usage of COFA-sourced funding; and one such rule requires the hiring of a professional engineer to oversee infrastructure projects. “We need to have a professional engineer [in our Project Management Office],” said Governor Elimo. “The problem here is: it seems that nobody wants to come and work for us.”

The governor noted that the high price tag for retaining a certified professional engineer and the relatively low budget Chuuk State has to fund the position is contributing to this issue; such an individual would play a key role in moving the backlog of approximately $80 million in Chuuk State infrastructure projects forward.

In addition to other updates from the FSM president — which included the outcomes of his recent trip to Washington, D.C., the president’s aggressive foreign policy and environmental protection stance, and the president’s invitation to all four FSM state governors to meet Ted Waitt, founder of the Waitt Foundation on July 25 to discuss conservation proposals — members of the cabinet were also invited to provide updates on topics of relevance to the State of Chuuk.

Consultant and secretarial nominee Andrew Yatilman of the Department of Environment, Climate Change, & Emergency Management reported on Typhoon Wutip relief. “We’ve been able to provide two shipments of relief assistance to the islands…one was for 30-days supply of food and water, and the second was for 40-days of food,”Yatilman said. “We’re ready to send out the third [shipment], but we don’t have any ship at the moment.”

The MV Caroline Voyager, which was conducting a field trip to the State of Kosrae in late June 2019, ran aground on a reef. The vessel has been assessed and it requires repairs in order to be sea-worthy again, leaving only the MV Navigator available to provide transportation assistance at this time.

Joses R. Gallen, secretary of the FSM Department of Justice, provided updates on the Republic of the Philippines’ ban on Filipino workers entering the FSM, which is an issue that has had categorical effects on the FSM’s private sector.

“I met with the consul general last month…after [a labor dispute is resolved], the [Philippines] will invite the FSM National Government to initiate the process of entering into a bilateral labor agreement,” Secretary Gallen said. The FSM national government is working closely with the government of the Republic of the Philippines to resolve this ongoing issue.

Kalwin Kephas, secretary of the Department of Education, provided updates on the FSM school accreditation process. Designed to determine a school’s total capacity to teach and empower children — with 96 individually measurable statements across six standards ranging from a classroom’s ventilation and the quality of drinking water to student and teacher attendance trends and standardized test scores in mathematics and English — schools are given an aggregate score between one to four, with one being the lowest/worst score and four being the highest/best score.

“Thirty-five schools were visited in Chuuk this year,” Secretary Kephas said. “26 of these schools have been placed on level one.” The secretary noted that the FSM national government will be providing additional technical and material assistance to these schools, including assistance in the creation of turnaround plans and enhanced professional development curricula for teachers and principals. The secretary also noted that the 2019 Micronesian Education Teachers Conference will be held on the week of July 22, 2019.

President Panuelo urged the Chuuk State Government to consider its development priorities across all sectors in preparation for a more formal discussion through the State & National Leadership Conference. While the next conference doesn’t yet have a formalized date, the president suggested that it will occur “sooner rather than later.”