President Panuelo Briefs Kosrae State’s Leadership; from Compact Negotiations to Road Infrastructure, & the Forthcoming UN Multi-Country Office to COVID-19 Updates, Etc.

TOFOL, Kosrae—From September 20th to the 24th, 2021, His Excellency David W. Panuelo-President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)—and his Cabinet conducted an official State Visit to the FSM State of Kosrae. The purpose of the State Visit was to formally meet with Kosrae State’s leadership in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches, and the State’s residents, so as to inform them of the goings-on in the FSM National Government, and how such goings-on directly impact the State of Kosrae. This (lengthy) release intends to summarize the bulk of the briefings, with a focus on the items of most visible and immediate concern to FSM citizens residing in the State of Kosrae.

Regarding the ongoing negotiations on the expiring provisions of the Compact of Free Association, as Amended, President Panuelo described that the Ambassadors of the FSM, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau recently met with the U.S. National Security Council, and that “The message that was given back to me is that it is clear that…we are going to extend the economic provisions of the Compact; it’s just the amounts and the level of funding, the details, that are being negotiated.” The President explained that, to his knowledge, the United States has informally put forward an initial offer, and that the FSM is preparing a response to that offer.

Regarding the Panuelo-George administration’s Pave the Nation initiative, the President described Kosrae’s projects stemming from the Nation’s $46,000,000 World Bank-funded FSM Priority Road Improvements & Management Enhancements (PRIME) Project, the $12,000,000 World Bank- funded FSM Strategic Climate-Oriented Road Enhancements (SCORE) Project, and the $18,000,000 Asian Development Bank-funded Sustainable Road Infrastructure Investment (SRII) Project.

The PRIME funding supports the Improvement of the Lelu Causeway project. Proposals have been received and evaluated, with the contract to be in awarded in October 2021. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2022. Other projects, to be identified by the ongoing Vulnerability Assessment and Climate Resilient Road Strategy, are to be completed in January 2022.

The SCORE Project includes the Muntunennea to Sialat Road, which is proposed for consideration, and supports the operation of the proposed bottling plant. Approval of the grant is expected in May 2022.

The SRII funding supports the rehabilitation of the Lelu Causeway to Tofol Road project and the Lelu Town Roads project.

Additionally, President Panuelo described how Kosrae may wish to explore using the recent donation of $16,000,000 from the People’s Republic of China on a road project (as roads have been identified by Kosrae State Government as such a development priority).

Regarding the forthcoming United Nations Multi-Country Office, President Panuelo described that the Team Leader and other initial staff will be arriving in the FSM on the October 6th, 2021, repatriation flight for essential personnel. The Multi-Country Office’s annual budget of approximately $2,000,000 per year will help the United Nations to support the FSM and its Micronesian brothers and sisters in the Republics of Palau, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and Kiribati, in gender equality, sustainable and inclusive economic empowerment, equitable basic services (e.g. education), human rights, governance and community engagement, and on Climate Change and disaster resilience.

Regarding COVID-19-related financial assistance, President Panuelo described how $2,100,000 has been distributed to Kosraean applicants through the U.S.-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program, that $156,000 has been disbursed to Low-Income Households through the ADB-funded Low-Income Household Program, and that $596,000 has been paid out to businesses through the FSM Economic Stimulus Package (i.e. the Tourism Sector Mitigation Fund). Additionally, the President noted that he has solicited the 22nd FSM Congress’ support for appropriating an additional $2,000,000 Nation-wide for the Low-Income Household Assistance program from local FSM revenues. On September 23rd, the Congress passed this additional assistance, which they have chosen to increase to $2,500,000.

Regarding COVID-19 vaccination updates, it was noted that approximately 80% of Kosrae’s adolescent population, aged between 12 to 17 years, have been vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine, and that the other FSM States will begin using the Pfizer vaccine once they receive the appropriate cold-storage capacity.

Regarding the construction of the new Kosrae State Hospital, President Panuelo described that the $26,500,000 of funding is sourced from the Compact of Free Association, and that designs have already been completed and endorsed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Bids were invited in late 2020 but, as only one bid was received—and a minimum of two are required—the grant was not approved. As of September 24th, 2021, the bidding documents are being revised and updated, with new bids to be expected for invitations in October 2021.

Regarding other infrastructure projects in Kosrae, President Panuelo described that the final assessment report to identify priority rehabilitation works at the Okat Port is expected by the end of October, 2021, with designing work to begin in 2022, and construction to take place in 2023. Meanwhile, designs have been completed for the Multi-Purpose Students Center at the College of Micronesia-Kosrae Campus; a design firm has been selected to prepare the designs and bidding documents for the construction of a new elementary school in Malem Municipality; contracts are being negotiated with local contractors to replace the fencing at Kosrae High School; designs are being prepared for the refurbishment of facilities at the Kosrae Agricultural Station; and the 24-unit COVID-19 Quarantine Facility is complete and in use.

Regarding power generation and access, President Panuelo described that the FSM SEAM project will be hiring a State Officer of Energy, the MPSBEE project will be hiring an Energy Efficiency Officer, and the ADB REDP will soon begin the process of hiring a Project Officer. The President detailed that negotiations are underway with the selected bidder who will implement various priority projects in Kosrae, such as roof-mounted grid-tied solar in Tofol, and the electrification of Walung. The contract is expected to be awarded by October.

Regarding fisheries, President Panuelo thanked Kosrae for explicitly supporting the FSM National Oceanic Fisheries Investment Policy, which has been submitted to the 22nd FSM Congress for adoption. The President described the efforts made to ensure the Dayang Seafoods Processing Plant reaches its potential, and noted that the National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA) is looking to setup a monitoring office in Kosrae in support of transshipments. Such an office is critical, it was described, as Kosrae is one of the busiest ports in the Pacific, and expects to export 1,500 forty-foot reefer containers by the end of the year.

Regarding shoreline protection, President Panuelo described that approximately $800,000 through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been used so far to complete a Strategic Environmental Assessment, to draft a Land Use Plan (where the final draft is expected in December 2021), as well as Management Plans and demarcation of Marine Protected Areas. Additionally, the funding has been used for dry litter piggeries, procurement of monitoring and enforcement vehicles, coral reef monitoring, rehabilitation of mangrove and eroded coastal areas, establishment of low-value grants for communities (in an effort to support mangrove rehabilitation), capacity-building, the Kosrae Protected Area Fund Act & Regulations, and more.

Regarding the topic of income inequality and socioeconomic opportunity, President Panuelo acknowledged that Kosrae State Government explicitly wishes to explore how salaries for all categories of public workers can increase, and advised that he would instruct the FSM Office of Personnel to conduct a study on ways forward on that issue.

Regarding telecommunications infrastructure, President Panuelo described a formal offer from one or more of the Nation’s closest friends, allies, and development partners regarding a forthcoming fiber optic cable connection to Kosrae. Although details on this development are still being finalized, the main idea the President conveyed to the Kosrae State Leadership and citizenry is that Kosrae absolutely will receive improved internet capacity in the near future, as the FSM has submitted its in-principle support for the project.

Regarding harmony amongst all branches of Government, President Panuelo praised Kosrae State’s “K-8” meetings, wherein, on a monthly basis, the two Kosraean Senators in the FSM Congress meet with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Kosrae, as well as the Speaker and Vice Speaker of the Kosrae State Legislature, and the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the Kosrae State Supreme Court. The President noted that, to his understanding, in addition to the monthly meetings, the K-8 also convene with the Mayors of Lelu, Tafunsak, Malem, and Utwe every quarter. It is the view of the FSM National Government that this model of bridge-building between levels and branches of Government for the betterment of the People could be replicated in other parts of the FSM or abroad.

The remaining topics the President briefed the leadership of Kosrae State on have been detailed in recent public releases from the FSM National Government, such the creation of the Cyber Security & Intelligence Bureau (CSIB) at the Department of Justice, and the National Tax Reform Commission.

President Panuelo and his delegation express their sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Honorable Aren B. Palik and Paliknoa Welly, the Kosraean Senators in the FSM Congress; the Honorable Carson K. Sigrah and Arthy G. Nena, Governor and Lieutenant Governor respectively of Kosrae State; the Honorable Rensley A. Sigrah, Gerson A. Jackson, Hairom Livaei, Tulensru E. Waguk, and Shiro Sigrah, Directors of the Kosrae State Department of Administration & Finance, Resources & Economic Affairs, Transportation & Infrastructure, Education, and Health Services respectively; the Honorable Tulensa W. Palik, the Honorable Rolner L. Joe, and the Honorable Jarinson Charley, the Speaker, Vice Speaker, and Floor Leader respectively of the Kosrae State Legislature; the Honorable Andy J. Martin, the Honorable Yamada Melander, the Honorable Sasaki L. George, the Honorable Alik Isaac, the Honorable Salpasr Tilfas, the Honorable Rhine William, the Honorable Daniel Palik, the Honorable Harry Jackson, the Honorable Nena Ned, and the Honorable Alokoa Jb. Sigrah, all of whom are Senators in the Kosrae State Legislature; the Honorable Chang B. William, the Honorable Edmon H. Salik, and the Honorable Robinson Timothy, the Chief Justice, Associate Justice, and Principal Judge respectively at the Kosrae State Supreme Court; and the Honorable Presley P. Abraham, the Honorable Jackson Albert, the Honorable Ruben K. Charley, and the Honorable Likiak A. Melander, the Mayors of Lelu, Tafunsak, Malem, and Utwe respectively, for making the first Presidential Visit to the State of Kosrae a resounding success by all objective and subjective means of measurement.