Pohnpei Governor gives his “State of the State Address”

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

 

March 14, 2019

Pohnpei—This morning Governor Marcelo Peterson delivered the State of the State address in the chambers of the Pohnpei State Legislature.  The speech was aired lived on State radio station V6AH.  A video of the speech as well as full English language and Pohnpeian language transcripts are available on the website of the State Government www.pohnpeistate.gov.fm. In the English language, the transcript of the speech spans 22 pages and is nearly 9000 words long.

He reminded his audience that three years ago the administration adopted a vision statement that says, “One Vision, One Community, and One State”, their way of saying that they hope to create one vibrant and prosperous Pohnpei.  He said that in line with the African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, then you must go as a group,” his administration has led as a group.  He said that his administration has tried to build a courageous team of leaders in order to overcome the ever-mounting challenges the State faces.  “Challenges that come in the form of funding decrements for our social sectors; Challenges that come in the form of environmental threats, outmigration, etc.,” he said.

His detailed speech outlined the accomplishments and challenges of each sector and department beginning with the Department of Health and Social Services.  He said that based on the prior year’s statistics, management is compelled to: 1) reinforce and enhance the preventative and primary healthcare services to strengthen disease prevention, 2) maximize capacity of the secondary and tertiary/hospital care services to reduce the need for hospitalization and off-island medical referral cases caused by non-communicable and preventable illnesses/diseases, and 3) continue improving its facilities and support assets and resources which is a matter of record.

On the Environmental Protection Agency he said that the department continues to ensure that all projects taking place in Pohnpei’s islands for public infrastructure and economic development purposes are properly carried without adversely affecting our environment and its resources.  It also ensures that introduction of hazardous materials, diseases/illnesses and other undesirable contaminants are prevented.

He said that the Department of Education is the biggest Department and continues to provide learning opportunities to 10,251 students through secondary education.  He said that the Educational Development Plan or a Restructuring Plan realigning all of the schools under four distinct school districts is within the bounds of the law.  “Through this creative mode and the hard working efforts of our teachers and staff, we have raised the standard of our schools to meet the ever-increasing accreditation standards which have become the basis by which our schools are funded. Although, this may not sit well with some, it has delivered the results we had anticipated,” he said.

Readers are encouraged to read the detailed statements the Governor made during his address, regarding the significant increase in response capabilities of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).  He said that the four divisions of DPS, including the new division of fire and emergency have distinct responsibilities to collectively enforce State laws to deter crime, ensure peace and order and traffic, protect persons, property, endangered natural resources and environment, punish and rehabilitate law violators and oversee and assist in time of emergency and disaster.  The four Divisions of DPS are Police and Security, Corrections and Rehabilitation, Fish and Wildlife, and Fire and Emergency.

“For us Pohnpeians, land is life, livelihood, culture, identity and in this age, the economy. While it is a general policy direction to achieve sustainable economic growth via tourism, agriculture and fisheries, it is imperative that development of these economic sectors must be done in accordance with proper and strategic management of land to ensure economic development and preservation and conservation of natural resources coexist in tandem”, the Governor said of the efforts of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.  “As time changes, new needs and challenges emerge. The need to grow our economy in anticipation to elimination of US Compact funding assistance to Pohnpei, the desire of FSM citizens for self-reliance, increase globalization and economic activities interdependence and the inevitable trend of embracing modern lifestyle by the younger generations, it is incumbent upon this generation to be creative and perceptive in managing our most valuable resource, our land, to foster proper economic development activities and safeguard the natural beauty of our God-given land going forward.”

The Governor outlined numerous accomplishments of the Office of the Attorney General including the establishment of the White Collar Crime Investigation Unit whose primary objective is to seek private and public sector compliance with State laws and rules and regulations.  The Governor said that the State government had filed civil complaints in order to remove trespassers at the public market area, government housing around the PICS area and within Kolonia Town, including the area around the State hospital.  He said that ongoing negotiations are being conducted with the occupants of the government housing units and that some occupants have already volunteered to move out of government owned houses.  “It is our plan to start renovation of these government units as soon as units become vacant and contracts can be awarded,” he said.

He spent a few moments speaking about the public relations efforts of the Office of Public Affairs and the Pohnpei Public Broadcasting Corporation.  He also spoke about the efforts of the Office of the Election Commission saying that the office had conducted public awareness campaigns. The office is looking at electronic voting to help qualified voters have better access to the poll; however, the commission would have to be sure that such a system would be completely secure.

The Department of Treasury and Administration was next on the list for the Governor to discuss.  He said that while the audit of 2016 activities showed a deficit of $512,000, the audit of 2017 activities showed a surplus of $4 million, not nearly enough to offset the impact of the funding shortfall after 2023.  “We need to do more by expanding our tax base,” he said.

“Our share of CFC is about 41% and is valued at 15 to 16 million in assets and cash, Governor Peterson said. “Our dividend from CFC for fiscal year 2018 is only $250,000 due to acquisition of a 900 metric ton fishing boat in the amount of $4.2 million. The purchase of this fishing boat will have a positive impact on the increase of catch which will translate into more dividends. FSM Seafood Company, which CFC is a part owner, according to the latest information, has set a tentative schedule for a ground breaking ceremony in June of this year. When in full operation, this company can employ 800 to 900 people. Another source of employment opportunity for the people of Pohnpei is the proposed 200 hotel rooms, which is now pending in the legislature. This hotel, if materialized, could employ up to 400 to 500 people. With these two projects, our tax base could be increased to a point that could provide the tax revenues needed. Expected improvement in the tourism’s sites will also play a big role in the improvement of our tax base. Tax bills currently pending in the legislature, if passed, could generate additional revenues of 2 to 3 million annually.”

He next spoke of the function of the Office of Budget.

On the functions of the Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Governor Peterson said that the 2018 fish stock survey showed that Pohnpei’s reef fish stock was declining due to over harvesting.  He recommended a comprehensive evaluation among all offices and agencies involved with harvesting and conservation activities to determine the sustainability of Pohnpei’s reef fish stock. He said that 300,000 sea cucumber larvae had been “reseeded” in Sapwuafik and in Pohnpei’s main island.  The mortality of those larvae has not been determined but he declared that if the program to harvest sea cucumbers was properly managed, “the outcome will be successful and the outcome will be significant.”

The Office of Transportation and Infrastructure approved 12 major projects in 2018.  The projects included schools, dispensaries, water projects and other public facilities.  He said that the Project Management Office is fully functional with all the necessary staff to fully engage in implementing Pohnpei’s projects. “In the next 4-5 years prior to the year 2023, our aim is to reprioritize all our IDP projects to include other priority needs such as our main road, ports, public safety and other government facilities. We will be working to get seventy percent (70%) of all our priority IDP projects complete,” he said.

Pohnpei Transportation Authority completed 30 CFSM projects worth $1.6 million and 10 State projects valued at $819,000, and average of about $60,000 per project, Governor Peterson reported.  “The management supports PTA to become a quasi-government entity that is administratively and financially independent in order to effectively delivery its mandated responsibilities in the service of the need of the government and the people of Pohnpei State,” he said.

“The Pohnpei Port Authority moves Pohnpei,” the Governor said.  In addition to its other accomplishments that the Governor outlined, PPA collected and remitted $427,717.34, 30% of mooring fees in fiscal year 2018 to the State under the Fisheries Enforcement and Development Fund.

Pohnpei Utilities Corporation (PUC) is currently rationing power due to refurbishment and repair work on old generators.  JEMCO, through the Office of Insular Affairs, provided $1.3 million for the ongoing repairs.  The Governor said that PUC reached out to the government of New Zealand to provide additional sources of energy at the cost of $1.2 million.  PUC has also acquired three megawatts of solar energy and on megawatt of storage batteries.

Proposed World Bank grant assistance of $11.8 million would provide a new permanent power plant that would provide 7.5 megawatts of power.  “In sustaining the momentum forward, PUC will need the support of grassroots or common people awareness and understanding, as well as the financial technical support from all levels of government,” Governor Peterson said.

The Pohnpei Housing Authority continues to approve low interest loans to qualified borrowers to build decent, safe and sanitary homes.  The authority approved 48 new loans for a total of nearly $850,000, and was able to collect nearly $700,000 of the $4.5 million that delinquent borrowers had owed.

The Governor highlighted the successes of the Department of Resources and Development in agricultural and tourism developments.  He said that last year, the Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation funded 114 projects at a cost of approximately $1.2 million mostly in the areas of general retails business, tailoring, fishing, agriculture, taxi services, and laundromats.

The Pacific Islands Development Bank continues to disburse loans on the guidelines of Pohnpei’s strategic goals with priorities of tourism, agriculture and fisheries.

Governor Peterson said that while foreign investment is important it is also important to help sustain local businesses.  He said that approximately 100 foreign investment businesses employ over 500 local employees who earn over $2 million in local salaries.  They also provide millions of dollars in revenues the government collects yearly from various taxes.

“While we value and aspire for good governance, economic stability and social prosperity, I want to underscore (the) importance of keeping values that are inherent and sacred for us as Pohnpeians that make us unique. By nature our culture esteems values and virtues of deference, reverence and respect (Wahu) without which living, working and growing together in peace and harmony as a People will not be possible,” Governor Peterson said in his concluding comments.

Please be sure to read the full detail of the Governor’s State of the State address at www.pohnpeistate.gov.fm.

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