Pohnpei cancels Okeanos contract but is working to negotiate a new one

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

 

March 1, 2019

Okeanos 1Pohnpei—According to Pohnpei’s Attorney General, the Pohnpei government is pushing forward to negotiate a new, legally sufficient contract to keep the beautiful twin hulled single mast “Vaka Motu”, Okeanos Messenger, a sailing canoe, in Pohnpei in order to serve Pohnpei’s outer islands. 

The vessel is capable of carrying up to seven passengers and up to 3000 pounds of specific types of freight.

Last week, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, Pohnpei Branch Managing Director Jack Yakana told The Kaselehlie Press that the Okeanos Messenger has taken four trips to Pohnpei’s outer islands at the request of the Pohnpei State government.  Invoices sent to the State have not been paid.

Yakana said that Okeanos Foundation for the Sea Chief Operating Officer Dena Seidel wrote to the Pohnpei government saying that Okeanos will not be able to continue in Pohnpei if their invoices are not paid.

Pohnpei’s AG said that he has authorized payments of Okeanos invoices on a per trip basis.  Currently the sticking point is that some of the funds that were reprogrammed to finance the acquisition of the Okeanos Messenger were Compact Sector Education Grants and would require approval of the US Office of Insular Affairs.

According to the professional opinions issued by the Pohnpei’s Public Auditor and its Attorney General, there were legal problems with the first contract and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Pohnpei government and the Okeanos Foundation.  Both of the opinions offered suggestions on how a new, legally sufficient agreement could be reached, and the government is currently pursuing those suggestions.

One of the problems with the initial contract was that the Pohnpei State Legislature was not consulted and so was not able to act to properly appropriate funds for the agreement. Instead, line item funds were inappropriately and potentially illegally “re-programmed” from the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) and the Department of Education (DOE).

Regarding the first contract, which was canceled for cause, the auditor wrote that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the Okeanos Charter Agreement/Contract are both silent on the ownership of the vessel and related assets at the end of the three year chartering services term.Okeanos 2

The auditor recommended that if the Pohnpei leadership chooses to proceed with the project, responsible management officials should take immediate action find relevant funding sources to make sure that funds are properly authorized within the Pohnpei Government budgetary and financial legal frameworks and processes.

The AG alleged in his legal opinion that after the contract agreement was signed by all parties, the Pohnpei State Government Contracting Officer, Jack Yakana substituted a page or pages into the contract.

On September 3, 2018, Pohnpei State Government Contracting Officer, Jack Yakana submitted his resignation from T&I effective at the end of that month, the AG wrote in his opinion.  On September 24, Yakana submitted an Annual Cost Estimate for the Vaka Motu that included a salary of $32,000 per year for a Managing Director.  Yakana also signed the Charter Agreement authorizing use of T&I funds in the amount of $70,000. After leaving office, he became the Okeanos Managing Director, directly benefiting from the contract.  The AG alleged that Yakana had violated the Pohnpei laws regarding conflicts of interest (9 PC 8-110) and regarding Contracts (9 PC 8-111).

The law regarding contracts (9 PC 8-111) says that a State agency cannot enter into a contract with any person or business that is represented in the matter by a person who has been a public officer of that agency within the preceding 12 months and who participated in a material manner in the matter with which the contract is directly concerned.

The AG’s legal opinion on the original contract said that Yakana’s actions made the original contract null and void.  It said that if Pohnpei State Government intends to enter into a new contract with the vessel owner, Yakana is legally “barred from participating or benefiting in the contract”.

For the last few weeks, the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea has hosted promotional sailings of its traditional sailing Vaka Motu. Yakana has invited many government officials and members of the media to take short sailing excursions on the impressive vessel.  On February 1, Lt. Governor Reed Oliver and members of his family were aboard the vessel along with Okeanos Foundation for the Sea Chief Operating Officer, Dena Seidel and Yapese Traditional Master Navigator Ali Haleyalur who was in Pohnpei for more training of the local crew.

Yakana says that Okeanos also plans to offer paid “sunset cruises” and paid charters to Ahnd and Pakin in the future.  Pricing for those excursions and when they will be available has not yet been decided.

Rather than a three year charter agreement, the government is attempting to negotiate a 10 year contract with substantially lower annual payments and without the management of a local non-profit.  Those negotiations are in process.