PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On November 28th, 2022, the 22nd Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) began its 6th Special Session, and the first to be held in-person since the COVID-19 Pandemic. After the opening session, His Excellency David W. Panuelo 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 Rolinson Neth, the Honorable Isaac V. Figir, and the Honorable Perpetua Konman.
Among the multitude of items on the President agenda for the meeting included advocacy for legislation that are essential for the Nation’s development, such as the Marine Spatial Planning bill, the Freedom of Information Act, the Cybercrimes bill, the proposed Civil Liability Fund, and several priority tax bills that would enable the Government to issue Tax Identification Numbers and implement usage of the new Revenue Management System. Additionally, the President solicited Congress’ support for passing resolutions for various grants, such as on the Skills & Employability Enhancement Project (SEEP), which would see World Bank funding injected into the Nation’s education sector, and a grant from the Asian Development Bank to support the Nation’s renewable energy initiatives.
Beyond advocating for legislation, the President also briefed the Congress on several items of import, such as the agreement between the FSM Telecommunications Corporation (FSMTC) and the Open Access Entity (OAE) that there will be no objection or interference in allowing the East Micronesia Cable Project to access the HANTRU-1 fiber optic cable.
Additionally, the President described the FSM Executive Branch’s supplemental budget request. Significant items included multi-million-dollar requests for a new FSM Embassy in Washington, D.C., as well as the construction of a new structure for the FSM Department of Health & Social Affairs and the Department of Education. Regarding the former, the current FSM Embassy in Washington, D.C., is classified as a historic building, and so altering it to meet the expanding needs
of the Nation ranges from difficult to impossible; regarding the latter, there is a deep recognition amongst the Executive Branch that the Department of Health & Social Affairs needs expanded offices, that the Department of Education needs a structure dedicated to its functionality, and that its current state of inhabiting the residence developed for the Vice President of the FSM is unsustainable.
Another item in the President’s supplemental budget request is the proposed reinstatement of a significant portion of pre-COVID-Pandemic travel funding for each of the Government’s departments, agencies, and offices. In this regard, reinstating this funding is essential on the premise that certain types of official travel funding—such as the Department of Justice’s Litigation Division, or the Department of Foreign Affair’s Office of the Secretary—are unavoidable if the intention is for the Executive Branch to successfully execute its mandate e.g. in litigating cases or in representing the FSM at a high-level in bilateral and multilateral settings with the Nation’s friends, allies, and development partners.
One item not included in the President’s supplemental budget request was funding for the $6,000,000 owed from the FSM to Pacific International, Inc. (PII). The President advised the Congress that it is his hope that the funding be appropriated in three instances of $2,000,000 each, for the months of January, May, and September, in part on the premise that there will be no pre or post judgment interest on the amount, and in part so that the funding disseminated will be in the line with the proposed Civil Liabilities Fund (Congressional Bill 22-245), which is proposed legislation that will not only serve how the Government addresses the PII liability but any potential future liabilities as well.
The meeting ended on a positive note, with the Committee to Wait on the President describing their appreciation for the President’s briefings and describing that Congress has much it intends to accomplish during this 10-day Special Session.