The Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO) convened in Pohnpei last month and passed resolutions to appropriate more than $14 million for education and approved a plan to deal with issues pertaining to Chuuk's schools and dispensaries. The members met at the College of Micronesia in Palikir on August 15 and 16 for the annual review of the consolidated national budget.
JEMCO is the implementing arm of the amended Compact, and is mandated by the US Government to ensure that the national budget complies with the United States funding stipulations.
The members approved $12.3 million in supplemental education grants to support key areas such as early childhood education, teacher training and curriculum development. Another initiative set aside $2.5 million for purchasing textbooks and other instructional materials in FY 2006-2008, with the goal of providing every student in the FSM with textbooks in language arts, math and social studies within the next three years. The resolution laid out a plan for the FSM to be on a five-year cycle for buying new, updated textbooks in the future.
FSM Office of Compact Management Director Epel Ilon said that while the FSM understands that textbooks are necessary in classrooms, some funds have been used elsewhere out of necessity."Chuuk explained yesterday, for instance, that they spent a lot more to build the classrooms first because they have to have the classrooms before they put in the textbooks," Illon said. He went on to explain that Yap and Pohnpei were in less need of textbooks because outside funding had been provided in certain schools.
JEMCO Chairman and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Office for Insular Affairs David Cohen said that he believed that every year FSM schools go without sufficient text books is a detriment to the development of the nation's youth."Every year that goes by is a year lost for students who don't have textbooks," Cohen said. "I think for a modern education where students need to be competing not only with others in their village or islands, but ultimately in the modern world where everything in inter-connected, everyone is competing with everyone else."
Joint working groups made up of staff from the US Department of the Interior, the FSM Department of Health, Education and Social Affairs, and the Chuuk Departments of Health and Education provided the updates on Chuuk's schools and dispensaries which JEMCO had requested at their March meeting.
Chuuk's Department of Education meal program was suspended earlier this year after a OIA trip to the state raised questions concerning whether or not meals were available for students and where food was being stored. OIA Representative Joann Sebastian Morris said that a plan had been put in place to closely monitor the usage of the program, clean and maintain food storage facilities, and properly record payroll information. Chuuk Department of Education The school lunch program has not been reinstated, having been delayed until the criteria set forth by the OIA had been met.
The issue of Chuuk's dispensary program was also reviewed following the OIA visit to Chuuk in March. Problems listed in relation to the program were "inconsistent drug and medical supply restocking practices and poor inventory control; antiquated to non-existent basic medical equipment; weak supervisory control for time and attendance, individual health assistant performance monitoring, fee collection, and the reporting of daily patient encounters; poor to no regulation or regular inspection of dispensaries operated in government facilities and especially in private homes; and continued payment of wages to health assistants who have for all intents and purposes, abandoned work."
The plan set forth by OIA included identification and closure of non-functioning dispensaries, consolidation of redundant or inefficient dispensaries, and elimination of political interference in the selection of health assistants. Chuuk Assistant Secretary of Health Marcus Samo referred to employees who were not working but collecting paychecks as "ghost employees" and explained that only nine percent of the state's health service workers could be described under that definition. He also said that action had been taken against nearly all violators who had been identified.
There was a productive discussion on the need to improve management and oversight capacity in both the United States and the FSM. There was agreement that the FSM would provide a schedule for submitting Single Audit Reports for 2003, 2004 and 2005 by October 1, 2005. JEMCO agreed on the importance of making adequate funds available to improve financial management and measure improvements that Compact funds are making in health, education and economic development.
A joint statement issued by JEMCO provides an overview of the two-day proceedings stated, "The Federated States of Micronesia hosted the successful second meeting of the Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO) at the Palikir campus of the College of Micronesia August 15-16. The JEMCO was established by the Governments of the Federated States of Micronesia and the United States to provide oversight for funds provided to the FSM under the Compact of Free Association. The United States currently provides over $120 million annually in assistance to the FSM, including over $70 million in Compact funds to support schools and health care, develop infrastructure, promote private sector business development, protect the environment, and build capacity in the public sector."
In their opening remarks, both Ilon and Cohen emphasized the important role that JEMCO plays in assuring that Compact funds are used to bring real improvements to the lives of the Micronesian people. The JEMCO agreed to meet again before the end of the September to review the FSM Governments plans for over $70 million in sector grants for FY 2006.
In addition to Office of Compact Management Director Epel Ilon, the FSM is represented on the JEMCO by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Anefal. In addition to Deputy Assistant Secretary Cohen, who is Chair of the JEMCO, the United States is represented by Bill Steiger, Special Assistant for International Affairs to the Secreatry of Health and Human Services, and by Howard Krawitz, Director of the State Department's Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Desk.