PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On March 21st, 2022, the 22nd Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) began its 4th Special Session. After the opening session, His Excellency David W. Panuelo virtually received the Committee to Wait on the President. Chaired by the Honorable Esmond B. Moses, Vice Speaker of the FSM Congress, committee members included the Honorable Isaac V. Figir, the Honorable Florencio S. Harper, and the Honorable Aren B. Palik.
The meeting began with the President describing his intention to nominate the Honorable Dennis Belcourt, Associate Justice of the FSM Supreme Court, for the position of Chief Justice. President Panuelo described that Associate Justice Belcourt, with his long history of service to the FSM and keen understanding of its history and culture, would provide robust and impartial leadership at the Court. Additionally, the President noted that the former Chief Justice of the FSM Supreme Court, the Honorable Dennis Yamase, had recommended the Honorable Dennis Belcourt as his successor based on the latter’s unique combination of shrewd intellect, compassionate heart, and dedication to public service.
President Panuelo also advocated for two additional nominations. Of these, the first is for Mr. Nakama Sana to serve on the Board of Trustees of the FSM Trust Fund (as opposed to the Nation’s second Trust Fund with the United States frequently referred to as the Compact Trust Fund). The second of these is to request the FSM Congress to allow for the President to resubmit his former nomination of Ms. Yuko Nakasone to continue her service on the Board for the National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA). On the latter, President Panuelo noted that he met with the Board and Management of NORMA the previous week and that they collectively shared their support for Ms. Nakasone to continue her service as a member of the Board.
The next topic of discussion was the 4th FSM Constitutional Convention. It is the understanding of the Executive Branch that the 4th FSM Constitutional Convention wishes to reconvene at the nearest practicable time so as to complete its work. In this regard, President Panuelo solicited Congress’ support to consider means of supporting the Constitutional Convention so that it can reconvene, whether that reconvening means doing so in person, virtually, or in a hybrid format.
The next topic of discussion was the COVID-19 Pandemic. While the President was unable to commit to specific dates for the next repatriation flights, the President did commit to having this information finalized and disseminated by the end of March 25th, 2022, and emphasized that all four FSM States will have repatriation flights in April. President Panuelo suggested that it is possible there may be adjustments to the Pre-Quarantine process in Guam (such as by having it be slimmed to a three-day experience or a five-day experience, as opposed to a seven-day or ten-day experience). Additionally, President Panuelo advised that the FSM COVID-19 Task Force is increasingly considering targeting August 2022 as the approximate timeframe to fully open the Nation’s borders, and by extension removing quarantines altogether. If this occurs, the President described, there would still likely need to be mandates on travelers demonstrating evidence of having received their COVID-19 vaccination, as well as a negative COVID-19 test, prior to entry into the FSM.
President Panuelo further advised the Committee to Wait that persons who were on the jointly approved National & State repatriation lists, but were unable to make the last repatriation flight, will receive either $1,500 per family or $1,000 per individual, which is consistent with the Stranded Citizens Assistance program implemented earlier in the Pandemic. The President also described that it is the Government’s intention for those who were unable to make the last repatriation flight (such as by being tested positive and now stuck in Guam) to be the first priority for seats on the next flight.
Noting that many of the Nation’s most urgent programming is delayed or otherwise impaired by the border closure, President Panuelo advised that it is his intention to ensure that FSM Petroleum Corporation/Vital can implement a repatriation from the Republic of Fiji to the FSM, and for that flight to be filled with essential workers for both Vital as well as the FSM National Government and the Government of Pohnpei State. Additionally, President Panuelo advised that it is his intention to prioritize the repatriation of several essential personnel working at the Department of Transportation, Communication, & Infrastructure, such as the head of the Program Management Unit, on the next repatriation flight.
The next topic of conversation was with regards to the forthcoming Our Oceans Conference, which is to be hosted by the Republic of Palau from April 13th to 14th . Noting the importance of the Conference, the President advised that he has accepted the invitation to attend. On the premise that the President will be out of the country for that period, President Panuelo also advised that it is his intention to visit the U.S. State of Oregon so as to join the opening of the FSM Consulate in Portland on April 23rd.
The next topic of conversation was with regards to forthcoming events and conferences. President Panuelo advised that the FSM Fair—a week-long sojourn into the Nation’s tourism destinations and offerings—will be held from June 27th to July 1st in Pohnpei State, to be followed every six months by an additional FSM Fair hosted by a separate FSM State in a rotation. The idea behind the FSM Fair is to boost domestic tourism awareness, and eventually international tourism activity, for when the Nation’s borders reopen and the Nation has successfully transitioned from COVID-19 free to COVID-19 protected.
President Panuelo described that the next iteration of the State & National Leadership Conference is proposed to occur from July 25th to July 29th, to be hosted by the State of Yap.
Additionally, President Panuelo advised that the next iteration of the Micronesian Islands Forum is proposed to occur from October 17th to October 21st, to be hosted by the FSM National Government and by extension held in the State of Pohnpei.
It is within the realm of plausibility that a casual reader of FSM National Government Press Releases may confuse the Micronesian Islands Forum with the Micronesian Presidents Summit and, by extension, humbly request an explanation on the distinction between the two entities. The remainder of this release will describe this distinction.
The Micronesian Islands Forum and the Micronesian Presidents Summit are first distinct from each other insofar as the former has nine (9) members and the latter has five (5) members. The Micronesia Islands Forum’s membership includes the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Territory of Guam, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the FSM National Government, and the FSM States of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. Key relationships in the Micronesian Islands Forum are that Presidents interact on the same level as Governors; that all islands share some form of special relationship with the United States of America (e.g. a Compact as in the case of Palau, a Covenant as in the case of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); and that all islands have some form of shared programming (e.g. the Micronesia Challenge).
The Micronesian Presidents Summit’s membership, by contrast, includes only the sovereign Micronesian Nations of the FSM, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Kiribati, and the Republic of Nauru.
Citizens may recall that the Micronesian Islands Forum last met in July 2019 in the State of Chuuk, with key outcomes including the creation of the annual Micronesia Cleanup Day activity; by contrast, the Micronesian Presidents Summit last formally convened in September 2021 and informally convenes approximately once a month to discuss issues of mutual importance to the Micronesian subregion, such as tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.
During the 24th Micronesian Islands Forum in July 2019, the FSM was chosen to host the next iteration of the Forum. In a meeting with the Department of Resources & Development on March 17th, 2022, it was agreed that the Government ought to confirm dates for the 25th Micronesia Islands Forum, and the dates of October 17th to October 21st were chosen as the most suitable on the premise that they do not negatively impact other major events (e.g. the United Nations General Assembly, COP27), and that it would ensure the Micronesian Islands Forum still convenes prior to the conclusion of the Panuelo-George administration on May 10th, 2023. It is the hope and intent of the FSM National Government that the next Micronesian Islands Forum demonstrate a collective emergence from the COVID-19 Pandemic, with renewed focus on shared items of interest to the Micronesian islands with a special relationship with the United States.