Pohnpei files two sets of criminal charges against Genesis Corporation and its sole stock holder

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

 February 27, 2019

Pohnpei—On February 12, 2019, the Pohnpei government filed criminal charges against Dr. Merlynn Abello-Alfonso, sole stockholder of the Genesis Corporation and all of its businesses, on charges related to alleged labor law violations.  Charges included a misdemeanor criminal charge of violation of Pohnpei Wage and Hour laws, three counts of Pohnpei State Human Trafficking and Criminal Exploitation laws, and one count of Forgery and Possession of Forged Writing on employment contracts. On February 18, the Pohnpei State Attorney General filed a second set of criminal charges against Dr. Abello-Alfonso alleging Obstruction of Justice for tampering with witnesses. 

The charges contained in both sets of criminal information are allegations and Dr. Abello-Alfonso is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

According to documents filed at the Pohnpei State Supreme Court, the charges were the culmination of an eight month long investigation by the White Collar Crime Investigation Unit of the Office of the Attorney General in cooperation with the Division of Personnel, Labor and Manpower Development of the Department of Treasury and Administration.

On the first set of charges, the Office of the Attorney General asked the Court to issue a summons requiring Dr. Abello-Alfonso to appear for a hearing. On the second set of charges, the AG asked the Court to issue an arrest warrant.  After two days of deliberation, Associate Justice Ekiek issued the warrant for arrest based on a finding of probable cause.  Police officers arrested Dr. Abello-Alfonso on the same day.  Dr. Abello-Alfonso wrote in a social media post that she spent 22 hours in jail before she was released after a hearing for pre-trial release.

Dr. Abello-Alfonso broke the news of the initial criminal charges against her in a social media post on February 16. She called the criminal charges “dirty politics at its best”. 

“One would think that such a high government unit that is tasked with protecting its citizens and ensuring justice for all would conduct itself in an ethical and moral manner and follow due process of law to allow me the courtesy to respond before hastily filing such ill-prepared, crappy charges!”, her February 16 post continued.  She called the charges a “well-orchestrated plot” to ruin her chances in the March 5 election for the District One seat in the FSM Congress.

“I was never given an opportunity to respond and due process was not followed at all,” she wrote.

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.

Regional cooperation takes centre stage in FFA DG’s address to 19th Micronesian Presidents’ Summit

Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency

 

22 February 2019

KOROR, Palau – FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen has made her inaugural address to the 19th Micronesian Presidents’ Summit, with a commitment that the FFA will build mechanisms for closer cooperation between FFA Members.

“Bringing our people together, to achieve together, is the power of cooperation,” Dr Tupou-Roosen told Micronesian presidents and leaders attending the Summit.  “To embrace cooperation, to listen and consult with our Members is at the forefront of what we do.”

However, Dr Tupou-Roosen signalled that one of her priorities as Director General is to develop mechanisms that will lift cooperation between FFA Members, as a platform for ensuring economic returns on fishing are maximised and social benefits for local communities are improved.

“Throughout 2019, the FFA will actively consider how our stakeholders can dialogue with each other more regularly and effectively,” Dr Tupou Roosen said.

“I would also like the FFA to bring a wider lens to discussions on key regional issues. Fisheries policies don’t sit in isolation but are part of the broader geopolitical landscape so we need to use our influence to drive progress on issues such as food security, addressing NCDs, mitigating the effects of climate change and alleviating poverty,” Dr Tupou Roosen added.

The Summit discussed issues surrounding climate change, fisheries and NCDs, among others. It was also an opportunity to promote the FFA’s 40th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a programme of activities, to be announced shortly.

The Micronesian Presidents’ Summit is an annual gathering of the presidents and leaders of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Kiribati. This year it was hosted by Palau from February 20-21.

Chuuk State Commemorates 75th Anniversary of Operation Hailstone

FSM Information Services

 

Hailstone 1WENO, Chuuk—On February 18th, 2019, representatives of Chuuk State Government, the National Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Government of the United States of America (USA), gathered at the Blue Lagoon Resort on Weno Island to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Hailstone. Operation Hailstone was a World War II operational campaign launched by the United States against the Japanese Imperial Navy based in the Chuuk Lagoon.

Among those in attendance at the commemoration were the Honorable Lorin S. Robert, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and representing His Excellency, Peter M. Christian, President of the FSM; the Honorable Wesley Simina, Speaker of the Congress of the FSM;  the Honorable Innocente Oneisom, Speaker of the Chuuk State House of Representatives; Mr. Nickson Bossy, representing the Office of the Mayor of Weno Municipality; U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Heather Coble; the Honorable Douglas Domenech, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Interior; General Charles Q. Brown, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces; Rear Admiral Kevin E. Lunday, Fourteenth District Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard; Director Nikolao Pula of the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs; and Dr. Dianne Strong, historian and author.

The commemoration began with the reception of guests and an invocation by Father Dennis Baker, S.J. This was followed by the introduction and recognition of dignitaries and officials.

Speaker Oneisom, after welcoming the attendees, said “Operation Hailstone’s aerial attack started at 21:00 [9:00pm] on the 17th of February, and ended after midnight on the 18th of February, 1944…. Chuuk State joins the FSM National Government and the U.S. Government in recognizing...the loving memories of all those whose lives perished.” The FSM, USA, and Japan all experienced significant loss of life during this military campaign. Continuing, Speaker Oneisom said “And it is an opportunity for us to reflect…and hope…that their souls rest in peace and there will never again be war and conflict in our islands.... This commemoration is not only for victory from war, but also for victory achieved in attaining and retaining peace.”

“Today, the FSM, the USA, and Japan are very close allied countries, and this ceremony brings us all together….” Speaker Oneisom spoke in detail about how the unique relationship between the FSM and the USA is realized through partnership and cooperation, though Speaker Oneisom also added “It is our hope that in 2023…the accompanying financial assistance will not significantly change.” FSM National Government officials and the U.S. delegation had an opportunity to meet prior to the commemoration activities. FSM officials included in this meeting were Joses Gallen, Secretary of the Department of Justice, and Andrew Yatilman, Secretary of the Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Emergency Management. During this meeting, officials engaged dialogue in matters of mutual interest concerning economic and security stability throughout the region. This included some discussion surrounding the status of the Amended Compact of Free Association as it relates to the expiring provisions scheduled to take effect in 2023.

U.S. Deputy of Chief Mission (DCM) Coble also spoke: “I am very honored to be here and part of the group…I think the theme that has been presented is something very important…. I think celebrating peace and partnership is something we do not do as much as we should…peace and cooperation...should be celebrated.”Hailstone 2

“I hope everyone…understands the significance of not only the people who passed away,” said DCM Coble, “But of the marvelous cooperation we have…as allies with the Japanese and FSM. We work very well with the Japanese, not only here but throughout the [Freely Associated States]…and this is such a great thing to see.”

Dr. Dianne Strong, author of Witness to War: Truk Lagoon’s Master Diver Kimiuo Aisek, spoke next. Dr. Strong shared a detailed account of Operation Hailstone from her research and interviews, with emphasis on the idea that, though World War II was traumatic for all parties, Chuukese innovation and leadership through Kimiuo Aisek resulted in “the world’s greatest underwater museum.”

General Brown provided the keynote speech. “The FSM is a key partner with the USA to keep a free and open Pacific…and this ceremony serves as a reminder…that a small set of allies can have a big impact….The USA is an enduring Pacific power…and our ongoing presence demonstrates our commitment…[to] security and partnership,  and collaboration: not domination.” General Brown recounted US assistance in a variety of arenas, including support following recent typhoons and other natural disasters through the broader Pacific region, and discussed Operation Christmas Drop which delivered “62,000 pounds of toys and food” to 56 islands throughout the greater Micronesia region, including the FSM. Operation Christmas Drop is the United States’ longest running humanitarian assistance operation.

Representing President Christian was Secretary Robert of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who provided special remarks. “Today we gather here not so much to dwell on the narratives of the past and the atrocities of wars, but most importantly to commemorate the victory of peace—the victory for the respect and dignity of our common humanity…. I think you will agree with me that the preamble of our national constitution says it all: ‘Having known war, we hope for peace. Having been divided, we wish for unity. Having been ruled, we seek freedom.’ Going forward today, let us promote friendship, partnership, and cooperation in our strength for the future.”

“I think you will agree,” Secretary Robert continued, “That we have enough common enemies to keep us busy. I am referring to climate change, sea level rise, poverty, hunger and famine, illiteracy, genocide, trafficking…these are the challenges of today.”

Closing his remarks, Secretary Robert said “We are indeed humbled and grateful for all the American assistance and support to our Nation building…we are thankful for the programs and grants…and hope for support and cooperation in the years to come.”

Following the speeches, the respective delegations proceeded onto small boats to place wreathes upon the water where, below, lay the reminders that the cost for peace has already been paid. Through these tokens of respect and remembrance, and active recognition that peace, civility, and respect for one another are as much choices people make as they are feelings and beliefs, it is the hope of the Nation that the FSM, the greater Pacific region, and the world at large will know and exemplify peace and partnership.

The FSM is dedicated towards producing positive and peaceful relationships with all countries and peoples throughout the world. The Nation’s relationship with the USA is both special and unique, and it is the hope of the FSM National Government that the FSM and USA will always have such a special partnership.

OLMCHS students accepted for JSA summer 2019 at Stanford and Princeton, two with full scholarship

OLMCHS

OLMCHSA total of eight students from Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School (OLMCHS) are accepted to the Junior State of America (JSA) Summer Programs 2019. Six are accepted at Princeton University in New Jersey. They are Caitlin Danila, Deitra Helgenberger, John Hegileirig, Sergio David (all 11th Graders) and Saya Shigeta and Jade Togonon (both 10th Graders). Two more 10th Graders are accepted at Stanford University in California - Yrra Peñascosa and Leila Jade Lane. The summer courses offered are AP US Government, AP Macroeconomics, International Relations, and Speech & Political Communication, aside from the Debate Workshop. Mr. Russell Figueras, the OLMCHS JSA Club Advisor, stated that: "These eight students deserved it as they worked hard in their applications, from their personal essays to their analytical and argumentative essays."

               

OLMCHS has been sending students to this program since Summer of 2012. The school would like the students to experience the JSA Summer School advantage. Attending the program, the students will be more prepared for the challenges of college life, create lifelong friendships, build leadership skills, and learn from respected professors from high caliber universities in the U.S. All OLMCHS students who attended the program came back to the school with great leadership skills and high self-confidence. OLMCHS has so far 16 JSA Alumni from Stanford University, Princeton University, Georgetown University, and Beijing Diplomat Program.

               

On February 21, 2019, JSA Senior Program Director Ed Banayat announced that of the eight accepted students, two were awarded full scholarships which include tuition, housing, meals, textbooks, and other academic expenses including airfare. The two scholarship recipients are Caitlin Danila and Deitra Helgenberger. The other six will explore other ways and means to be able to attend the program. Sr. Krista Namio, MMB, Principal of OLMCHS, thanked all the teachers who shared extra time in guiding the eight students in the application process.