"Will Pohnpei be able to manage an upward shift in salary with declining overall budgets?"

January 24, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

KOLONIA, Pohnpei - Roving state police decked in Night Blue, National, State, and Municipal government employees sitting in the tidy grass courtyard drinking coconuts, Traditional Leaders seated as dignitaries in the rafter seats of the Pohnpei Legislative Chamber, spiffy FSM Congressmen, and an attentive diplomatic corps of Foreign Ambassadors came together under a peerless blue sky for Governor Johnny David's seventh and final annual State of the State Message.

The lively hour-and-a-half speech broke down into two parts: a summary first of the Governor's "significant accomplishments and problems" during his entire two-term run, followed by a more detailed summary of the same over the course of 2006. The speech, delivered in Pohnpeian and broadcast live on V6AH Public Radio, was also translated into English, and the specifics noted in this report come from that translation. It was clear from preliminary talks with several Government offices in the days leading up to the State Message, including with the Public Affairs division and with several Cabinet-level Administrators, that some serious preparation, time, and drafting went into the Governor's speech.

The David Administration has certainly been in favor of Growth & Development over the years, verified at the outset of his speech, where the top three points/accomplishments were: the purchasing of more Diesel-fired engines to expand and improve electricity services by the Pohnpei Utility Authority, the completion of the paved Circumferential Road around the island, and a soon-to-be-constructed (2007) Airport Extension/Expansion that will allow bigger and more frequent air travel to the island. Japan, it was noted, was the benefactor for all of these infrastructure developments.

A trip made last month by David and 6th PSL Speaker Nelson Pelep secured around $4 million for a new Central Administration Building to be built and funded by China, also in 2007. Chinese Ambassador, Her Excellency Liu Fei, exhibiting a more engaging and outwardly public presence than previous Chinese dignitaries, huddled in the Chambers' Green Room with state leaders after the speech.

Perhaps the most spectacular portion of the Governor's speech was this suggestion, given as the closing highlight of the first part of the State of the State Message: "Work is underway to give employees another salary increase in view of the rising cost of living on Pohnpei." David emphasized this as part of his past record of salary increases and of being "cognizant of employee's welfare, especially their income." The cost of living within the FSM has indeed skyrocketed in the last half-decade, with huge jumps in the Consumer Price Index for fuel, electricity, and consumer goods of the durable and perishable variety. All of this while wages have remained frozen in another era. Those that are unemployed, or not employed by the Government, are also a relatively large contingent on Pohnpei. Combined, the trend could easily be heading toward that ugly gulf appearing centrally in all developed societies: a growing disparity of wealth.

Governor David went on, noting the development of the new Madolenihmw High School, and a Kitti Junior High School that will become a full High School by the end of the current school year. This, he said, will spread the concentration of public high school students to different areas of the island. Also, the Governor noted that the "public trust in the police work in Pohnpei State was very low when I became Governor," and that "confidence in police work has markedly improved" over his tenure.

Speaking outside momentarily to a Sergeant in the State Police Force - decked out with a two-way radio, a 9mm Berretta, and two extra 11-bullet clips for the automatic pistol - the Sergeant noted with a tint of excitement in his voice that the State Police now have a crack SWAT unit trained in the latest methods of Hostage Situation and Negotiation, Prisoner Escape and Tracking, and Riot Control.

David also noted that auditors examining the books for state funds said that the books had been handled properly according to Generally Accepted Accounting Standards, a first for any government in the FSM, the Governor said. Problems? A continuing "inability to stabilize our services to the outer island people" of Pohnpei State, said David; "Occasional mechanical problems" with the state radio station, which has just returned to the local airwaves after an absence of more than two months; the "problem with land squatting; and "an on-going problem in collecting payment of the leases of Government land in the State." Chinese Ambassador Liu, stated David directly, "has given her full support" for a new field trip ship to service the outer island citizens of Pohnpei.

The State of the State then went into a breakdown of statistics, improvements, and challenges for each of the following areas, combining loosely State Government Agency and Department input and the six Sectors under Compact II with the United States: Education, Health, Land and Natural Resources, law Enforcement and Public Safety and Protection, Economy, Infrastructure, Environment, Social Affairs, Personnel, Budget & Finance, as well as Others.

A quick rundown of this section of the Governor's speech highlight these things: enrollment in the entire public and private school system is just right around 12,000 students. Increasing population and enrollment are putting upward pressure on teacher/student ratios at the public schools. Pohnpei has one State Hospital and nine dispensaries, with three private clinics rounding out the health care service sector. Diabetes remains at the top of the hospital hit list, along with skin diseases, Hypertension, and heart attacks and strokes, amongst several others. No new cases of HIV (precursor to AIDS) were confirmed. 73% of school-going 12-year olds have "dental decay."

221 deeds to land were issued. Monitoring of Marine Sanctuaries and Mangrove and Watershed Forest Reserves continues. A Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team was created. There are 169 inmates in the Pohnpei Prison. Black Pearl farming is being pursued by the State in Pakin and Mwoakilloa Atolls. A Rapid Ecological Assessment shows Pohnpei is being over fished. The average monthly catch of Fresh Tuna that is caught and flown out is over 200,000 kilograms per month. The Pohnpei Fisheries Corporation is expected to bring in 40 fishing boats in 2007, ramped up from the 23 long liners plying the state's waters in 2006. Tourism generates $5 million per year. Pohnpei is exploring the possibility of becoming a World Park area to increase tourism.

8 out of 16 foreign investment permits were issued in 2006, creating "500 local jobs" and generating $3.9 million in tax revenues. Capital Improvement Projects totaled $2.2 million. 36 "needy families" have been assisted by the State to build sanitary toilet facilities for their homes. Four new women's organizations were chartered, bringing the total to 16. Guaranteed, low-rate housing loans were provided to 20 families, with another 228 pending loan applications pending. The Executive Branch maintained a ratio of 1,380 local and 68 expatriate employees for operations in 2006. The total state budget for FY 2006 was just over $36 million. Total FY budget for 2007 is $34 million. The FY 2008 budget is being formulated, and estimated to be around $30.5 million.