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Short FSM reprieve as its first suspected COVID-19 cases in Pohnpei and Yap test negative for the virus

Responders struggle with learning curve and urge continued vigilance by FSM residents


By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


March 20, 2020

89966959 291612358494069 4570462166406135808 nFSM—As of today, the Federated States of Micronesia officially announced that after testing for suspected cases the FSM has NO cases of COVID-19.  The tests for the three people who presented with suspect symptoms in Yap and the one in Pohnpei all came back negative for the novel coronavirus.

Though the news is good news, health officials are cautioning residents to remain vigilant by continuing the practices of social distancing and thorough and frequent hand washing. The Task Force in Pohnpei says that if you have COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath and body aches) DO NOT go to the hospital, clinics or dispensaries as this can cause further spread.  In Pohnpei call 320-3109 if you are experiencing symptoms and don’t ignore symptoms. Do not attend public gatherings or crowds. No not come in close contact with anyone who has fever and a cough.

FSM and State governments have assured FSM citizens that freight will continue to be carried and have asked residents not to stockpile supplies as more will come and stockpiling deprives others of supplies they may need while you don’t use them.

Several times United Airlines has announced flight cancellations due to the arrival of the virus in Hawaii and in Guam.  According to The Village travel agency, who has not received an official notification from United Airlines who also did not confirm them for us, today was to be the last full island hopper flight from Hawaii to Guam until May 3, but it did not arrive.  This weekend they will do a short island hopper flight from Guam to Pohnpei and back again and will repeat that flight again on Monday.  After this weekend’s flights the short route will only fly on Saturdays until May 3.  Those route announcements are subject to change.  Kosrae will not have another flight from United until May 3.

Asia Pacific Airlines will continue to carry cargo to FSM’s states during that time.

Misinformation on social media and by word of mouth has become a big factor that FSM health practitioners have not had to deal with during past viral outbreaks like SARS or the Cholera epidemic.  The public is challenged not to share misinformation and rumors or discriminate against anyone associated with COVID-19. Don’t believe everything you read on social media or on the Internet in general.

Unfortunately, according to comments on social media, some residents of Pohnpei took the negative test result as a sign that all is well.  One FB poster wrote that the danger was over for now so they could go back to the sakau market.  Others agreed, however, the virus itself has not yet been defeated in the world and social gatherings are still a dangerous idea for all concerned.  Though the FSM has yet to have an identified case of COVID-19, it does NOT mean that COVID-19 is not already here and each person should act as if they are a transmitter of the disease and take precautions to avoid the possibility of infecting everyone they care about.

Another person on Facebook wanted to know why people are still in quarantine if the test came back negative.  People are in quarantine because they have come to Pohnpei on a flight that may have been carrying people who are infected but don’t yet know it yet; people who perhaps traveled from Guam or Hawaii where the COVID-19 virus has definitely been identified.  The quarantine is for observation of arriving passengers to ensure that they do not have the virus in order to protect the community.

As the press release from the National Government on page seven of this issue says, ALL travelers arriving in the FSM must be quarantined for 14 days.  For now, no travelers are allowed to disembark in Chuuk while it makes quarantine arrangements it apparently had not made before the virus arrived in Hawaii and in Guam despite having been given funding to do so.  Pohnpei will allow only residents to enter except for invited medical professionals and those residents will need to be evaluated for quarantine.  Qualified doctors make the call on how long a traveler must be quarantined based on a variety of factors and their professional opinion. Only they can authorize release a person earlier than 14 days. Some have been released earlier or even never admitted at all based on standards and qualifications that the doctors know.

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Pohnpei’s Legislature refuses to seat Ricky Carl as representative of Madolenihmw

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


March 4, 2020

IMG 1765Pohnpei—The Credentials Committee of the Pohnpei State Legislature has refused to seat Ricky Carl to the seat that over 1800 voters of Madolenihmw chose him to occupy.  Speaker Ausen Lambert has declared the seat to be vacant and has transmitted his request that Governor Reed Oliver hold a special election to fill the seat which by law he must now do.

In August of 2019 Pohnpei’s Election Commissioner disallowed Carl’s candidacy for the legislature and also disallowed a request for reconsideration.  At issue was the question of whether or not Carl was a resident of Madolenihmw.  On August 26, Carl filed a legal action at the Pohnpei State Supreme Court and on September 16 the Court ruled in Carl’s favor.  The Court said in its ruling that though the Constitution does require that a candidate be a resident of the municipality he or she is running to represent for three years, both the Constitution and the Pohnpei State Code are silent on whether those years need be consecutive.

Carl had presented evidence that during his lifetime he has lived in Madolenihmw for over 30 years.  He also presented affidavits from Kerpet Hebel, Isipahu, Nahnmwahrki en Madolenihmw, and John Adolph, Iso Nahniken en Madolenihmw both testifying that Carl holds the high title of Luhk en Lengso in Madolenihmw.  Both affidavits testified that the title is never bestowed on a non-resident of Madolenihmw.

The ruling said that it had been proved to the Court that Carl owns land in Madolenihmw and often lives there.

The Election Commissioner appealed the Courts decision but the Apellate Panel did not render a ruling before the election and the Election Commissioner asked the Court to dismiss the appeal.  The September ruling of the Supreme Court is therefore still in place.

In a February 20 letter to Speaker Lambert, Carl asked the Speaker to reconsider.  The letter claimed that he had asked the Credentials Committee to appear before them to provide evidence in support of his position in the matter but that the Committee did not give him that opportunity.  He said that failure was a denial of due process.

Speaker Lambert did not respond to the request but did declare the seat to be vacant and notified the Governor.

The report of the Credentials Committee was issued and adopted on February 11, 2020.  It says that the Election Commissioner’s underlying reason for denying Carl’s petition for candidacy was that in 2003 Carl had registered to vote in Kolonia and didn’t transfer his voter registration until February 4, 2017. The Election Commissioner determined that as a result, Carl did not fulfill the three-year citizenry requirement. “Stated somewhat differently,” the report says, “Ricky Carl’s February 4, 2017 registration date falls 22 days short of the commencement of the Tenth Pohnpei Legislature Term (e.g. January 13, 2020)”

The Committee Report said that its members, cognizant of the Constitutional provision that “the Legislature shall be the sole judge of the qualifications of its members”, met three times to discuss whether Carl had satisfied Constitutional requirement for qualifications for membership.  It said that the Committee decided that in construing the intent of the Constitution, “one should endeavor to divine the plain meaning of the words utilized by the framers.”  They decided that the plainest explanation of the requirement that a candidate “has been a citizen of the local government that he represents for at least three years” is that of an action that began in the past and is still in progress—in other words, it requires at least three consecutive years of residency.  The Committee therefore recommended that Ricky Carl not be seated as a member of the Legislature.

The Committee provides no indication that it ever considered the Pohnpei State Supreme Court’s ruling that said the opposite of what they decided.

A petition demanding that the Legislature seat Ricky Carl as their representative as the voters chose to do during the election has begun widely circulating in Madolenihmw.  It is not certain whether a petition would in any sway the current course that has been set in place by the Speaker’s declaration of the seat as being vacant other than perhaps a political one.

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Economic impacts of COVID-19 related travel restrictions discussed during Committee to Wait on the President

FSM Information Services


Untitled 1PALIKIR, Pohnpei— The 21st Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) began its Fourth Special Session on March 5th, 2020. After the opening session, the Vice President of the FSM, the Honorable Yosiwo P. George, received the Committee to Wait, chaired by the Honorable Ferny S. Perman, with committee members the Honorable Joseph J. Urusemal, the Honorable Aren B. Palik, and the Honorable Paliknoa K. Welly, to discuss their agenda for this session of Congress. It was noted, both in a formal communication to His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the FSM, from the Honorable Wesley W. Simina, Speaker of the 21st FSM Congress, as well during the opening session itself, that the primary purpose of the Special Session is to review the economic impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the Nation.

“We are here to listen to the Executive [Branch],” Senator Perman began. “One of the main purposes for this Special Session is to address what’s happening with the coronavirus.”

Senator Perman first noted that the 21st FSM Congress’ legal staff, having reviewed the President’s declaration and clarification/s, was uncertain if the U.S. Territory of Guam and the U.S. State of Hawaii were being treated as the rest of the United States (i.e. as a COVID-19 affected country, where travelers to the FSM originating from there are subject to a 14-day delay in a COVID-19 free country). It was requested that the Executive Branch be clearer in its communications.

“For all [COVID-19 related] intents and purposes,” said the Honorable Joses R. Gallen, Secretary of the Department of Justice, “…we are treating Guam and Honolulu as being [separate from] the U.S.”

Senator Perman then noted the economic impact in the FSM due to the travel restrictions in place, and requested that the Executive Branch prioritize the development of a plan to assist. “We look at the economy today, and we know how it’s affected,” Senator Perman said, “Is there a way that the Executive are looking at this economic downfall to address it?” Senator Perman cited the hospitality industry as a prime example of an area feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19 travel restrictions right now.

The Executive Branch is aware of formal and informal communications from the hospitality industry regarding the impact of COVID-19-related travel restrictions on their financial wellbeing. To the knowledge of the President, Blue Lagoon Resort in Chuuk State has temporarily closed down, and Manta Ray Resort in Yap State has needed to layoff sixty (60) employees to remain financially solvent.

“The Executive [Branch] is aware of the negative impacts on the Nations economy,” Vice President George replied, followed by requesting Rob Solomon, Macroeconomic Advisor to the FSM, to describe in detail how the FSM is tackling the economic impacts.

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COM signs letter of agreement with USAID Climate Ready

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


March 1, 2020

DSC03118 copyPohnpei—This morning, Patterson Shed, USAID Ready’s Regional Coordinator and Karen Simion, acting President of the College of Micronesia FSM signed a letter of agreement previously agreed to and signed by a representative of the University of the South Pacific regarding Climate Ready training courses.

Climate Ready is a five-year regional project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by DT-Global, a United States based institutional contractor with worldwide experience implementing environment programs.

Climate Ready works in 11 Pacific Island Countries (PICs): Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.  Climate Ready works with Pacific Island Country governments and other stakeholders to prioritize areas of support that align with their climate and disaster resilience plans and goals to:

1) draft and implement policies that achieve national adaptation goals; (2) access and utilizeinternational sources of climate financing; and (3) improve systems and expertise to better manage and monitor adaption projects.  As part of its capacity building program Climate Ready contracts the services of local and regional providers to provide training programs, qualified trainers and venues.

Climate Ready seeks to support the delivery of accredited training courses through its partnership with USP, in a range of topics to government and private sector/NGO staff in FSM in a cost-effective way using blended modes and online modes of delivery. The courses, including project management, resilience and procurement and supply will be provided at appropriate venues provided by the College of Micronesia-FSM.

COM-FSM has agreed to provide the necessary logistics for the delivery of the courses including the provision of appropriate venues for the delivery of face-to-face components of courses and trainings. It will also provide additional logistical support as required, including but not limited to internet services and printing.

Climate Ready has agreed to work with country partners to identify suitably qualified and motivated men and women to participate in the agreed training programs; provide COM-FSM and USP with sufficient time to be able to schedule and resource the courses; ensure that there are equal opportunities for both women and men to participate in the courses; and to work with local partners to ensure active participation and on-going monitoring of course participants.

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Chuuk State Debt Relief Fund shows poor record keeping and ineffectiveness at retiring debt

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


March 6, 2020

Weno, Chuuk—The Chuuk Office of the Public Auditor has released the results of its recent concluded audit on the Chuuk State Debt Relief Fund.  It found that the records of debts or payables under the fund were not properly maintained. It also found that there is no clear plan on how to the retire $13 million in liabilities for claims and judgments and other payables that have been accumulating.  Further, it said, that amount was not transparent to the public because it was not reported and reflected in the Financial Statement.

It said that in 2007, the Debt Relief Task Force started to manage the existing debt of $46 million that existed at that time.  Because of the lack of records, auditors were unable to analyze historical balances and how the original amount has decreased through the years.

“During our audit, the Reconciliation Officer provided an outstanding payable amounting to $13 million. However, the accuracy of this payable amount is very much doubtful. The Reconciliation Officer was unable to vouch its accuracy because she said she did not keep complete records of supporting documents per claim. Additionally, she did not reconcile the system records with bank reports,” the audit said.

“Since the accuracy of details of $13 million payable were subject to question, we have decided to omit its details from publicly available reports because of the unnecessary conflict it might create for any differences. We have provided, though, such details to the members of the Debt Relief Task Force and to the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) for their reconciliation and so that an accurate amount of payable for each creditor could be established, recorded in the books and reflected in the Financial Statement; and, to the Governor and Legislature for their reference.”

Auditors recommended that the Task Force should work towards implementing and reconstructing the account records liabilities to establish firm Accounts Payables for recording and payment purposes. “Additionally, and most importantly, the Task Force should work towards implementing the defined activities in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Chuuk State Government and the Federated States of Micronesia National Government that would generate additional revenue for the Debt Relief Fund. The system management’s achievements will strongly impact the improvement in the collection of revenues, therefore, the debt relief fund,” executive summary on the audit said.

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PUC successfully restores power in Pohnpei after marathon session

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press


March 4, 2020

IMG 4454 copyPohnpei—Power outages earlier this week were caused by problems with cable connections inside Pohnpei Utilities Corporation’s power plant in Nanpohnmal.  The cables carry the electronic information necessary for the generators to work together when they are put on line.  The generators were not properly synchronizing, causing island wide power outages for customers beginning at 4:45 in the afternoon on March 2 and lasting anywhere from four to seven hours as PUC mechanics and engineers fought to solve the problem.

Though power was restored late that night, the problem had not been completely solved. On the next day, PUC announced a schedule of planned outages on a region by region basis. It only had to implement that “load shedding” plan once and even then for not as long as PUC had thought would be needed.  PUC employees were able to complete necessary repairs during that one power outage that lasted from 10:00 until about 10:40 that morning.  Since that time, power has been restored to Pohnpei.

PUC General Manager Nixon Anson said that power plant operators noticed a problem with synchronization several weeks ago.  PUC notified Hawthorne Power Systems in San Diego whose technicians set up the system several years ago.  “We have good working relationships with Hawthorne,” Anson said.  The company sent a representative at its own cost. The technician arrived on February 11 to correct the problems with synchronization among the generators.

Three weeks later, the problems appeared again, this time with more detrimental results to the Pohnpei populace.  Anson said that he charged his employees with checking each end ofIMG 4457 copy the many communications cables on each generator that connect to the switching system.  Generators had to be shut down while employees painstakingly pulled each cable end and checked for proper connections.  They found that some of the cables had loosened, possibly due to the vibration of the operating generators, an odd situation considering that Hawthorne representatives had been working to resolve the same problem.

The Nanpohnmal power plant itself has a power generation capacity of 9.2 megawatts.   During daylight hours and during rainy times, PUC can draw on approximately 2 megawatts of additional power from solar and hydro sources.  Anson said that at peak demand, Pohnpei’s power customers draw down approximately 6 megawatts.  Peak hours generally occur between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM on weekdays.  There is a much smaller peak beginning as the sun starts to go down as consumers get home.  That small peak starts to dissipate beginning at about 10:00 at night as they wind down and head to bed.

The generators and the renewable power sources are more than enough to supply power during the high peak hours. Employees monitor a switching system to ensure that no one generator is overtasked.  Even with employee monitoring, generators still need to talk to each other in order to synchronize.  When they couldn’t on March 2, power generation capacity was reduced to below demand. In order for workers to perform diagnostics, generators had to be shut down while employees worked, resulting in the power outages on March 2 and 3.

PUC recommends that customers get the grounds in their homes checked.  Anson said that all too often ground wires are not connected at every outlet or fixture in homes.  He said that electricity will seek ground wherever it can be found.  If the ground wires are properly connected, excess power will go through the home’s ground rod.  If it can’t go there it will take the path of least resistance, possibly through an expensive appliance plugged into the wall.

Anson said that surge suppressors are also effective though he admits that he personally doesn’t use them.  To protect against brown outs, low voltage situations, which are more damaging to expensive appliances than power surges especially if a surge suppressor is in place, an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) is effective to raise the voltage if it drops. He said that PUC has a 1.2 megawatt reserve unit at the power plant that raises output frequency and voltage to the proper levels if they drop below standard. If frequency and voltage are over standard, the excess charges the reserve unit.  He said that power that PUC delivers is at standard but voltage drops can occur for a variety of reasons including trees on lines.

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Tan Siu Lin Foundation donates 21,000 surgical masks to the FSM

FSM Information Services


sdfvcxcvxvxc copyPALIKIR, Pohnpei—On February 21st 2020, the Honorable Livingston A. Taulung, Secretary of the Department of Health & Social Affairs, received on behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) a donation of 21,000 surgical masks from the Honorable Dr. Tan Siu Lin, Founder of the Tan Siu Lin Foundation and Honorary Consul of the FSM in the People’s Republic of China’s Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, to assist the Nation in its capacity-building efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Representing Dr. Tan was Mr. Lu “Benson” Deng, Base Manager for LianCheng Overseas Fishery Co. Ltd’s operations in the FSM State of Pohnpei.

Over the next several days, masks will be distributed to the FSM States of Chuuk, Yap, and Kosrae, along with teams of capacity-building personnel.

The FSM National Government extends its sincere appreciation to Dr. Tan for his generosity.

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