October 13, 2005

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

On October 5, Pohnpei state legislators declared null and void a recent executive order issued by the governor to dissolve and replace the board of directors of the Pohnpei Fisheries Corporation, a government-funded company. However, without the thrust of law behind their standing committee report and resolution, the order stands pending further action. The governor's order recommends a 5-member task force to replace the PFC board of directors and to renegotiate the leasing of the corporation.

The dissenting senators, in a standing committee report and resolution responding to the order, declared the September 20 order "both unconstitutional and invalid" and "without force or effect of law." Committee members found the order, in attempting to bypass deliberation and consent of the legislature, to be in violation of the constitutional responsibility of legislators, rather than government executives, to make state laws.

All but two members each on the Resources and Development and Judiciary and Governmental Operations committees responsible for the report signed its recommendation.While the governor indeed has the power to issue executive orders, senators found the governor's issuance of the emergency order as essentially an abuse of his executive powers. Without mincing any words, the committee concluded its analysis saying "If the Governor feels that there is an emerging crisis at PFC, it is an emergency of his own making."

Proposed task force members include Kikuo Apis, administrator for the Office of Economic Affairs, Youpert Yamada, Pohnpei State Planner, Semensin James, Budget Officer, Yosuo Phillip, executive director of the Pohnpei Economic Development Authority and Finley Perman, director of the Department of Treasury and Administration.No one denies the governor's claims of PFC's precarious financial situation. Public audits of PFC have consistently found the corporation to be in the red. A 2001-02 audit cited PFC debt of more than $2.5 million and raised considerable doubt about its ability to proceed.

Further, the governor's executive order cites appropriations and investment of more than $22 million in the corporation over the years.The PFC was established in 1992 to operate and manage a fish processing plant, boats and a cold storage facility.Evidence of the struggle of other government and private fisheries corporations may substantiate the urgency of the governor's desire to make immediate changes. For example, the private, government-funded Micronesian Longline Fisheries Corporation, went bankrupt over a year ago. Dozens of Indonesian and Filipino MLFC employees remain in Pohnpei as a result.

Another government-funded fishery, the National Fisheries Corporation, anticipates the problems with PFC will not affect its business, though it relies on the corporation for incidental purchases. The overwhelming response to the executive order perpetuates a contentious relationship between the body and Governor Johnny David's office. A similar conflict in 2001 went all the way to the Pohnpei Supreme Court. In Pohnpei Legislature v. Johnny P. David et al., the court unanimously rejected an order issued by the governor as "invalid and unenforceable."

Meanwhile, the future for PFC's remaining handful of employees is unclear. Raymond David, PFC's chief engineer, is uncertain about his job security. David says PFC has no boats currently fishing for the corporation and only seven employees - down from a peak of around 70 boats and as many employees at one time.

David, who has worked for the corporation for 11 years, said "I don't know the status of my job."Governor David was off-island, in Yap, and unavailable for comment at the time of this issue's publication. Lease negotiations with a private company for control of PFC remain before the legislature