Government’s effort to gain control of Private Sector funds “a step backward,” says PVB Chairman

January 11, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

KOLONIA, Pohnpei – A proposed reorganization of Pohnpei State Executive functions related to economic development could mean the end of the Pohnpei Visitor’s Bureau in its current mold.

The PVB has been a chartered non-profit corporation – an NGO – since 1999, operating on government funding to carry out its functions over the last sevenplus years. The PVB is also the only organization within the state to receive any funding from the US Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) and the JEMCO for FY 2007. The organization asked for, and received, $143,206 from the Compact’s Private Sector grant for five (5) employees and its various projects.

Meanwhile, the State, specifically the Office of Economic Affairs, the Foreign Investment Board, the Economic Development Authority, the Court of Land Tenure, and the Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corp. were awarded a total of zero dollars by the OIA after requesting just short of $1 million ($881,291) for 48 state employees from the Private Sector grant. The State has had to pick up the financial slack for these offices for the first quarter of FY ‘07.

Pohnpei and the PVB under the Governorship of Del Pangelinan entered into a ten (10) year Memorandum of Understanding in ’99 for the dual purposes of maintaining the Pohnpei Botanical Gardens, and to “provide the Pohnpei State Government with tourism and promotional services.” PVB is one of the few private sector players in the FSM that has been able to get a sum of Compact funding traditionally dominated by Government.

Edgar Santos, the Director of the PVB since August 2006, worries that the proposed reorganization could ultimately lead to the destruction of PVB as an NGO. He voices concern over the fact that the Private Sector funds that the PVB currently gets will be diverted to and controlled by the Office of Economic Affairs (OEA), which according to recent JEMCO actions has not performed or reported on accomplishments well.

“The PVB has proven itself, “It’s a little difficult for me to swallow,” and “It is better off without Government interference,” are comments that Edgar made in a brief interview at the PVB office in the bucolic botanical gardens. Santos admits to being somewhat torn between supporting the decisions of Governor David, and his role in answering to the PVB Board, his voluntary bosses, and “the backbone of our operation.”

The PVB Board members are Perdus Ehsa, Chairman, Dion Neth, Vice Chairman, Kent Ainslie, Director, Allois Malfitani, Director, Waldis Clark, Director, and George Stevens, Director. “We feel we want to maintain as we are. Because we will only get better,” said Santos, referring to the proposal to take the Compact funds from the PVB and put it into a streamlined form of OEA, where there will be an Office of Tourism that will act as “an information desk.”

In a letter sent last week to Governor David from Chairman Ehsa, the PVB states its need to operate with “autonomy to administer its funds…to operate at a global business pace.” Ehsa, owner of the Sea Breeze Hotel who just returned from a trip to Michigan State University in relation to the FSM becoming a World Park, outlined several reasons explaining the need to maintain the status quo. Perdus states that the current trend and mandate to privatize “agencies that are capable of managing themselves and are able to return…the dollar value of their expenses” must be considered.

“The PVB has also proven to be able to do just that. Changing the status of the PVB is a step backward.” Government sources say that the reorganization is not an attempt to do away with the PVB, an admittedly successful program, only to take control of the funds that support its operation.

“They are an independent organization,” says Iuphert Yamada, Economic Advisor to Governor Johnny David. “We don’t really have any say in whether they want to continue or not. That is completely up to them.” Yamada otherwise referred the subject to Kikuo Apis, Administrator of the Office of Economic Affairs of the State, stating that the matter would be under Apis’ purview.

“This doesn’t mean we are pulling the PVB under us, just the funds,” said Apis at his office in the sprawling Government Center atop Kolonia Town. “I am for PVB because they actually do most of the work of promotion and it really helps us. We should be very complimentary.”

According to Apis, he would work to help PVB “look for money with the government,” but that PVB, if the reorganization goes through the Legislature, “will have to seek other funding.”