November 28, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

The Third Special Session of the Fifteenth Congress came to a close before noon on Saturday the 24th of November. Senators had spent nearly all of the eleven days debating and deciding on vital issues for the FSM with most of the work being done off the floor in meeting after meeting continuing late into the evenings.

They are a hard working bunch and it shows. They are expected to be well informed on a wide variety of issues and they work until they feel that they know enough to make an informed decision that is right for the nation and for their own constituents. Several times during the session Senators said that they felt their work was too often hampered by the Executive Branch. Senator Urusemal pointed out that despite repeated requests a copy of the JEMCO awards had not been transmitted to Congress 55 days after the start of the current fiscal year. Speaker Figir said that oftentimes Congress is expected to make decisions without supporting documentation and that the staff of the President's office needs to do a better job at communicating with Congress with complete information if Congress is going to be able to do their job.

As an example, Congress, in the Second Regular Session passed a bill for $2.1 million worth of projects in the States. Shortly before President Mori vetoed the project bill his cabinet released a new revenue projection revised downward from the one that was transmitted to Congress. Under the new projections there would not be enough money to appropriate that amount of money to the States.

During a hearing of the Ways and Means Committee on the subject of a $3.4 million supplemental budget chaired by long time Senator Dohsis Halbert, Secretary Finley Perman pointed out a fact that none in the committee had considered before. The most recent audit of the National Government showed that the FSM has accumulated since 1999, $5 million in questioned costs for a variety of programs. External agencies that granted the FSM money to operate programs can, if they feel it is important enough, recall all money that cannot be proved to have been used properly for the programs those agencies funded. Perman said that in the worst case scenario all of the involved agencies could recall all of the $5 million in questioned costs.

Further, he said, Chuuk State has accumulated $8 million and if the worst case scenario happens in that State and they are unable to refund the inappropriately or insufficiently documented monies, FSM is obligated to pay it back for them.

Because of the revised numbers the Ways and Means Committee agreed not to override the project bill veto. Senators made a gentlemen's agreement amongst themselves to honor that commitment. When the supplemental budget came to the floor for its second reading, Senator Peter Sitan was successful in introducing a floor amendment that would, if signed by the President, give world champion John Minginfel $10,000 as a tangible way of thanking him as an unofficial ambassador and promoter of the FSM.

Senator Primo was successful in passing a floor amendment worth $75,000 to Pohnpei State despite Senator Halbert's request for him to withdraw the amendment as improper. Senator Urusemal will be bringing home $40,000 to Yap if President Mori signs the bill. On the last two days Senator Suka of Chuuk tried to make a motion to override the President's veto of the States' project bill. During the discussions on the issue Senator

Halbert expressed his extreme disappointment that despite the earlier discussed gentlemen's agreement it appeared that some Senators were so anxious to take home projects to their constituents that they were willing to overlook the numbers that said that overriding the veto would leave the nation only $200,000. He said, "Hey, I'm just like you all, I want $10 million dollars for my projects but we don't have it."

Ultimately Congress decided that if the numbers looked better in the next regular session in February they would revisit the matter of a possible override of the veto at that time. Senator Suka acquiesced to the plan and no longer pushed the issue.

President Mori called the special session in part in order for Congress to consider his nominations. In the midst of the series of votes on those confirmations, Senator Urusemal who has served as Yap's representative for many years observed, "Never before in my history have I seen votes like these in this chamber: 3 for 11 against, or 4 for 10 against. I don't know what's going on. Maybe we're trying to send a message here or something? I don't know!"

The President's nominee for Washington D.C. Ambassador, Sabino Asor narrowly missed confirmation on reconsideration. It takes 10 votes in Congress to confirm he received 9 positive votes. While two of the President's nominees for the NORMA board were confirmed in a 12 to 2 vote, Johnny Meippen of Chuuk was voted down 4 to 10. A discussion on that vote revealed that the law says that members of the NORMA board serve until they are specifically replaced. Senator Nelson expressed his concern that Congress had just voted a sitting member off the NORMA board but that it accomplished nothing because Meippen will be seated until he is replaced.

The nominee for the Department of Research and Development, Mr. Steven George was not confirmed in a 3 to 11 vote. Senator Sitan moved that Congress defer any vote on the nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Maketo Robert until the next regular session of Congress. Senator Halbert expressed his disappointment in the Supreme Court that they had not yet handed down a judgment on Robert's legal status.

Seberiano O. Barnabas' nomination for the position of Pohnpei's National Election Commissioner was quashed twice in a 9 to 5 vote and a later reconsideration vote of 9 to 4.

Junior Nomau was nominated for the position of Postmaster General. Confirmation was defeated 4 to 10.

Congress did confirm Dr. Vita Akapito Skilling of Kosrae to be the new Secretary of the new Department of Health and Social Affairs.

Samson Pretrick was confirmed as the FSM Ambassador to Fiji.

In a historic decision, Congress authorized the President to renominate Frances Itimai for the position of Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communication and Infrastructure.

President Mori additionally had asked Congress to review the Venture Funds Bill. Consultant Mark Heath of Micronesian Registration Advisors was not informed of the meeting of the Committee on Ways and Means and was unavailable to testify in the hearing. The committee decided to defer action on the bill until they have been fully informed about the project. Further issues surrounding the business of the newly established FSM Petroleum Corporation were passed in the special session. 15- 80 authorizes the President to execute a full faith and credit agreement with the Bank of Guam in order to secure a loan for the acquisition of MOMI assets. 15-82 provides for an alternative procedure for States' divestment abilities in the FSM Petroleum Corporation.

According to at least one Senator, it appears that this change may have contributed to Pohnpei State edging closer toward signing on to the plan.

Congress also ratified an agreement with Palau on fishing. The Kaselehlie Press did not receive a copy of that agreement but Senator's felt it was an important agreement and gave themselves a round of congratulatory applause for its passage. They also ratified a treaty with the EU after significant discussion and after hours fact finding meetings.

Congress, as its last measure agreed to accept the $4 million grant from China which was given to the FSM to aid Chuuk and Kosrae with Financial restructuring. They will act in the next session to appropriate the funds as they sit fit.