On October 25th at the College of Micronesia Pohnpei Campus' nahs, some of the candidates for Lieutenant Governor gathered for what College of Micronesia organizers called a "Question and Answer Forum". On the 26th, all of the Gubernatorial candidates participated in a separate event for the same purpose.
Both forums extended through the sweaty lunch hour beginning at 11:30 and ending at 1:30 and were largely attended by students of the Pohnpei Campus. Students from the Seventh Day Adventist School also attended. Standing in the periphery on each day were older adults waiting to hear what the candidates had to say and how they performed. The midday forums were held in English. They were repeated with different questions in Pohnpeian each day from 6:30 to 8:30.
All of the forums were simulcast on AM 1000, the Calvary Baptist Radio Station, run by Dave Arthurs. According to forum organizers, State funded Pohnpei State Radio AM 1450 would not broadcast the events unless they were paid to do so. As the first forum closed, organizers were still trying to decide how they would get the video tapes edited for broadcast on Island Cable Television's channel 20. The Q & A's were intended to educate voters on the public policy platforms of the candidates for the two highest offices in the executive branch.
Several of the candidates on the first day expressed surprise that the debates were being held in English at all especially third time candidate for Lt Governor, Solpisio Salvador who pointed out that the Pohnpei State Constitution says that Pohnpeian is the official language of the land.
The Q & A forum drew three Lt. Governor Candidates for the midday English language session: Solpisio Salvador, Churchill Edward, and Bert J. Rodriguez. Three candidates also showed for the evening session in Pohnpeian: Edward, Rodriguez, and Estephan Santiago who had earlier been attending a funeral. Lt. Governor Candidates Yosuo Phillip and Kiomy Albert-Kilmede did not participate in either session.
The forums drew all five Gubernatorial candidates for the Friday, English language session: Del S. Pangelinan, Senator Feliciano Perman, Lt. Governor Jack E. Yakana, John Ehsa, and Dr. Rufino Mauricio. Del Pangelinan was unable to participate in the evening session in Pohnpeian. The rest of the candidates did participate in the session.
Each of the candidates was given five minutes to introduce themselves and to give opening statements. Questions, which had earlier been solicited from the community by the organizers, were asked of each candidate. The first candidate to answer the question was chosen at random and was allowed five minutes to answer the question. Each of the other candidates were then given one minute to respond to the question and were instructed not to respond to the previous speaker's responses but to speak only about the issue itself.
Lt. Governor Candidates' Opening Statements
Candidate Bert Rodriguez was the first up and gave simple greetings not understanding that he was allowed to say anything he wanted for five minutes. He spoke for only just over a minute and was allowed after Salvador and Edward spoke for five minutes each to speak for another three minutes. During his second speech he said that his priority is a corruption free government. "There is no way that we will have development in the State when corruption is still going on….The governor down to the lowest employee must adhere to the law." Another priority, he said, is to find to find a way to get their products to market either locally or in foreign markets. Lastly, he said that he felt it was important to increase the minimum wage especially for private sector employees, many of whom are still making the minimum wage of $1.35 an hour.
Candidate Churchill Edward said that he chose to run because of young people and because he cares about what Pohnpei's future will be. He wants to help spur the State's economic development. Currently Pohnpei State relies too much on foreign help and its citizens need more education and health services, Edward said as part of his platform. He has as one of his priorities, the development of a well trained and strong work force consisting of local people.
Candidate Solpisio Salvador gave his opening comments in Pohnpeian and said to those of us who don't speak Pohnpeian that we should find someone to translate for us, an understandable statement especially since we can't vote.
The well chosen questions started with the issue of Pohnpei secession, foreigners in Pohnpei, high fuel costs and what can be done about them, the dumpsite's location in Dekehtik being the first thing that tourists see and smell, the implications of the financial irregularities of other States on Pohnpei, the high cost of medical referrals versus the cost of a well equipped and staffed hospital in Pohnpei, and how to deal with the problem of under prepared students. Only one question was submitted by the audience. The question regarded what the candidates would do to help local fishermen and farmers in efforts to export their products.
On the possibility of secession, Edward said that he is glad that Pohnpei is a part of the FSM and that he believes it should stay that way. He said that Pohnpei should very carefully weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. By his analysis there are more disadvantages for secession in terms of the loss of Pohnpei's international identity as part of the FSM, the loss of social security, insurance and other problems that would come with secession. "What will be the result of my decisions?" He said that Pohnpeians should carefully weigh the choice and decide as a people. He wants to be sure that people including his five children don't get hurt by decisions he makes for the State.
Rodriguez said that the issue is a very sensitive one and that his thoughts on the matter were in line with those of Edwards. Currently, he said, the amount of money that the States get from the Compact is based on population. "If Pohnpei secedes, the money would be reduced. Are we ready for that?"
Salvador said, "The Federation is not working or the system is not working." He suggested that the National Government system should be revisited; that perhaps the FSM should have a prime minister and that the FSM Congress should be eliminated in order to reduce the size of the National Government. At this time there are more cons than pros on the issue of secession according to Mr. Salvador Foreigners in Pohnpei?
The second question of the afternoon went to Bert Rodriquez, "What do you have to say regarding concerns by some Pohnpeians about the increasing number of foreigners on Pohnpei?" He said that more tourists equates to more money for the states. Pohnpei needs more visitors because it is good for business, but "I want the good guys not the bad guys!"
Churchill Edward said that foreigners as tourists are good for the State but that if they're here to replace the State's workforce it's not good. He reiterated his earlier message saying that if foreigners are here because Pohnpeians don't have the skills that they need on island then they should do more training. To foreigners he said, "If you're here to help, we like you. Stay with us!"
Salvador used his one minute response time to say that foreigners classified as professional and skilled workers are welcome but that mechanics, construction workers, and laborers are not. He challenged the students of COM to study hard so that Pohnpei can replace foreign workers with local ones.
On the high price of fuel in Pohnpei, Salvador said that Pohnpei doesn't make fuel and so it can't control fuel's price. As a solution he said that when Pohnpeians import vehicles they should import more diesels that can be converted to run on coconut oil instead of gas. "That's the only solution unless you can design something that doesn't use fuel."
Bert Rodriquez said that there are two options. 1) Raise the salaries of employees so that the cost is not such a big problem or, 2) invite more companies to see if that might lower the cost. "I don't think we have enough coconuts on the island."
Churchill Edward said that he hoped that Pohnpei could find alternative sources of energy but that the ultimate solution lies with consumers. He said the answer was in how Pohnpeians live their lives. Customers could cut back on their use of electricity and consolidate car trips and that would lower the cost for individuals.
The "Yucky" Dekehtik Dump as first tourist exposure to Pohnpei?
Solpisio Salvador was faced with the question, "Is there a solution to having the dump site at Dekehtik? For people who come to visit Pohnpei from other places, it is the first thing they smell when they arrive on our island." He smiled a large smile and said, "We can ask them not to breathe." His solution was to relocate the dumpsite "not too far from Kolonia…Sokehs is the best solution."
Rodriquez agreed that the dump needed to be moved "someplace far away from Kolonia and the airport." Edward said that Pohnpei State has a plan to move the dump to Palikir but that money is a problem. He said, maybe Pohnpei should "ship the trash to countries sending trash to us."
Do "Financial Irregularities" in other States impact Pohnpei? On "financial irregularities" in other States and their impact on Pohnpei State, Edward said that the FSM has huge governments and not enough resources. Though Pohnpei posted an $8 million surplus at the end of the last fiscal year some of that money may now be obligated. He said that Pohnpei needs to plan ahead and reminded the audience that the first step down of compact is in 2008. He suggested that the Government needs to find a way to supplement the income to make up for the decrease. Pohnpei State should look at tax enforcement. Edward said that the State might not be collecting all that it is due by law. "Government should be downsized…We should be ready for bad times coming our way.
Rodriquez in his one minute response reminded the audience that the amount of money Pohnpei receives is based on population and that it receives less money than Chuuk does. He said that the nation needs a leadership change, distribution regulations need to be changed, or "we conserve our money and make good use of it and not waste it because it's not much…take good care of it and not mismanage it."
Salvador said, "Pohnpei is not like Chuuk or Kosrae." He announced that on the previous Tuesday, Government had approved a COLA (cost of living allowance) of $30 per pay for government employees. He said that the state was told that the COLA could be sustained at least until 2010.
"Financial irregularities have little to do with our state." New fully equipped hospital or more off island referrals? After a ten minute break Bert Rodriquez was faced with the question, "What would you say regarding the increasing requests for off island medical referrals versus the need to construct a specialized hospital in Pohnpei to provide such services?"
He said that the hospital doesn't have the money to refer patients outside of Pohnpei. Perhaps the best thing to do, he said, would be to spend money on education programs to teach the people of Pohnpei what they need to do to stay healthy so that they won't have to be referred off island.
Churchill Edward said that Pohnpei spends a lot of money referring patients off island and that we should construct our own National hospital. "The problem is money." He spoke of a rumor at the National government level to construct a National Hospital in Chuuk. Solpisio Salvador said that it's easy to say that having a special hospital in Pohnpei is the best solution but that the question is one of money. He referred to Pohnpeians with licenses to practice medicine who couldn't afford to practice in Pohnpei because of the low salaries for physicians.
He talked about Continental Micronesia One Pass miles for government travel being designated for hospital saying that three patients per month travel for medical referrals if they did that.
Under prepared students in Pohnpei and how they would fix the problem…
On the issue of under prepared students from the State school systems, Salvador said that PICS High School, where he is Principal, is in the process of being accredited and that when they are, students will be able to be admitted from their school anywhere in the world. He said that the other High Schools on the island are following suit.
Edward said that the government should help to enhance the small programs that are working to boost educational levels in Pohnpei. He mentioned that he had been involved in a workshop with all of the education units in the previous week and that the group had developed a five year plan to deal with precisely that problem.
Rodriquez said that the first thing the State should do is get rid of the mass entrance of elementary school students into High School. He felt that students should be tested before entering High School and that if students don't pass, the Government should "come up" with other programs to recruit those students separately into vocational programs. He said that the Government should concentrate on students with potentially high levels of academic performance and should train the rest of the students for work of some other type.
Local Farmers and Fishermen
Churchill Edward got the question from the audience about what he would do to help local farmers and fishermen to export their product. He said that he had been hearing that farmers and fishermen had been exporting their products but that the products, either through handling of shippers or lack of knowledge by the producers had not met quality expectations of those receiving the produce. He felt that the government and private sector had not come together well to help facilitate quality standards for Pohnpei. As a result customers have received bruised, over ripe bananas and spoiled fish. Edward said that if he was elected he would put together a plan to help farmers and fishermen with a group of people who truly know how to do what needs to be done.
Solpisio Salvador said that the government should help to provide adequate skills and "know how" to help farmers. Particularly the government should help to identify countries that can receive the products that Pohnpei can send. He mentioned that air freight is a concern and that he would work with Continental Micronesia to lower air freight.
Rodriquez said, "I'm also a farmer…Why can't the government do something for local farmers and fishermen?" He spoke of his experience in Fiji and Western Samoa where he had seen local farmers exporting their local produce to New Zealand and Australia. "Why can't our government send people out there to find external outlets?" He suggested that the State could buy from local farmers and then export the produce to other countries. Lt. Governor Candidates' Closing Remarks
Each candidate gave his closing remarks. Edward was first saying, "A strong man stands up for himself but a stronger man stands up for others…I am standing up for you because I care about you." Salvador said, "I am not a strong man but I am the strongest man here." He said that it was because of his work experience and the thing that he had done. "Try me. Remember me. Vote for me."
Rodriquez closed saying that he thought that the time for talk was over and that now was the time for action. He challenged the audience to check his record saying that he never once supported anything that was not good for the people of Pohnpei. He said, "We not only need vision to succeed, we also need proficiency to survive."
The crowd departed the Pohnpei Campus nahs quickly, having heard enough. The night passed, the next day came and it was time for yet another Q & A forum, this time for the Gubernatorial candidates.
Gubernatorial Candidates' Forum
The candidates for Governor were ready and Del Pangelinan gave the first introductory comments. He said that he wants, though he had already been Governor once to help Pohnpei State in a very important time and that he feels that the State should begin to think about how to move forward. He is concerned about the future of Pohnpei. He said that it doesn't matter who you vote for but that you must vote for the person that can best run the State.
Senator Feliciano Perman said that he had spent 36 years serving in Pohnpei State. Twelve years of those were spent working for the Governor's office, and twenty four of them were spent as a Senator for Pohnpei State. He said that his vision is contained in Article 7 of the Constitution of Pohnpei where the founding fathers established their plan for environmental and economic development, education and health, skill building for the workforce, and the establishment of a peace keeping force. He said that he would do everything possible to carry out the mandates of Article 7.
John Ehsa said that though he is the youngest candidate of all of the five candidates he has the most experience starting 32 years ago during the Trust Territory days of Pohnpei. He said that he was the first Micronesian to work for the United States Department of the Interior, and spoke of his financial experience as the FSM Secretary of Finance where he served from 1995 through 2002. He was part of the US Compact negotiation team through 2004 and has been doing consulting work since that time. His financial management experience, he said, would help him to lead Pohnpei through these times and into the future. Dr. Rufino Mauricio said that though he has the least public service experience of the candidates he has the most education. He attained a PhD degree in archaeology and anthropology in 1993. He decided to come back to Pohnpei where he was born and raised and ran the National Government's Office of Historic Preservation. He has served on many boards including the ground breaking Pohnpei Island Food Community. His priority is education and health services along with public safety.
Lt. Governor Jack Yakana stood on the administration where he has served for nearly eight years. He said that Pohnpei has the best financial record of all of the States. He pointed out that the last two audits of financial transactions in Pohnpei have been unqualified meaning that no noteworthy faults were found by auditors in the State's records and accounting systems. He noted that Pohnpei State had a surplus of $8.4 million in reserves in their general fund.
During the previous administration they built two new High Schools, completed the paving of the circumferential road, and achieved numerous other accomplishments. He said that he ran because he wants to continue to deliver in the same way he has done all along.
Former Governor Del Pangelinan received the question that Lt. Governor's had received the day before regarding secession. He had five minutes to talk about the subject. He said that some years back Pohnpei State approved the Federation as a unit and that since that time talk has occasionally gone to the subject of membership in the Federation. He said that membership in the FSM should continue until the people decide otherwise. By his estimation, Pohnpei benefits by the location of the National Government and "we should not turn that away too quickly…The reasons given for secession are not good enough." He reminded listeners that the State is approaching the end of the Compact. "What do we do then? We should plan for that time." "I think we should be cautious…creating a Nation at this time is not easy…[I think] We should go forward as one."
Senator Feliciano Perman, in what was supposed to be a one minute response went well beyond his time. He spoke of President Mori's inaugural address when the President said that more power should go to the States. Perman said that more taxing power should go to the States. In terms of secession talks he said, "I have nothing against the other States but we should seek out what is good for the people of Pohnpei." If it is good to dissolve the association then he will support that.
John Ehsa, in forceful language said that the question is "more valid now than ever before." He said that if he was elected he would set up a process to work with the Legislature and the public to explore the question of secession.
Dr. Rufino Mauricio said that there is obviously a problem and that we should get to the bottom of the problem. "If we secede, what will we want to be?" He said that timing is important and that we should address all of the issues carefully. Lt. Governor Jack Yakana said that right now the FSM has five governments, three of which are having financial difficulties. If he is elected he will set up a commission to study the pros and cons of remaining in the FSM. The commission will bring its findings to the people and let the people decide. Pohnpei
Regarding "financial irregularities" in other States and their impact on Pohnpei, Perman said that the $8.4 million surplus in the General Fund of Pohnpei was on September 30, 2006. He claims that the surplus is now down to between one and two million dollars. According to his statements he feels that that the drain on Pohnpei's surplus is the fault of other States. He said that other States must be fiscally responsible in order for the nation to be successful.
Pangelinan gave his congratulations to the current administration for the surplus. He said that the surplus could have been used to build up weak areas in Government service. Building on Perman's statement he pointed out that a decrease in surplus from $8 million to $1 million shows how much it costs to run the government. The surplus, he said, should have been returned to the citizens of Pohnpei in the form of services.
On John Ehsa's turn to speak he said that the impact of other State's financial irregularities is negative. He said that their improprieties could affect the ability of Pohnpei to attract financial assistance. Mauricio said, "Let it be a lesson to Pohnpei that we need a good financial management system." He conjectured that Pohnpei is bearing more than its fair share when he asked, "To what extent is Pohnpei shouldering other State's problems." Yakana gave a very short response, "Financial irregularities in other States impact Pohnpei."
What kind of skills do the candidates bring to the table to help Pohnpei if they find themselves in an economic disaster?
When asked what kind of skills he brings to the table if Pohnpei finds itself in serious economic disaster, John Ehsa reminded the audience of the days when Pohnpei's government employees found that they were to retire early if they qualified and that other's hours were to be cut back. He called it a productive time because people went back to their farms. He said it was productive because people had alternatives. "I believe that my experience as a financial manager can offer alternatives during economic hard times."
Each of the candidates said that they hoped the State would never be in should be prepared. He based his response on what will happen in "sixteen years" when the Compact runs out. He said that if we fail to plan we will definitely have that problem.
Perman said that amending the Constitutional items that relate to taxing power will help the State to avoid the possibility of economic disaster. He said that he wants the United States to advance the remaining amount of money, over $442 million that is left for Pohnpei in Compact payments so that Pohnpei can invest it to avert any such disaster.
Mauricio responded to the question by saying that Pohnpei State is fortunate in that it can still depend on the land and that certain conservation skills should be taught. Yakana said that Pohnpei is blessed with human resources and agricultural ability. He possesses person to person skills and will be able to, in the event of economic hard times, bring in professional people that can help.
2008 Compact Review Recommendations All of the candidates for Governor when asked what their recommendations would be on the 2008 review of the Compact with the United States said that they would recommend that JEMCO representation be equalized. Currently the representation is 3 to 2 in favor of the US. Dr. Mauricio was not an exception. He said that there are currently priorities of Pohnpei State that are not funded and he would recommend to the US that they be funded. He said that the reporting system still needs to be ironed out and made clear to the FSM.
Del Pangelinan said that currently big projects are given to outsiders and if the infrastructure management was delegated to the States that would not necessarily be the case.
Senator Perman, going beyond his allotted time, reiterated his idea that the United States should advance the remaining money in the Compact for Pohnpei State investment. He talked about the Investment Development Fund that was authorized under the first Compact at $60 million but only $20 million was drawn from the fund. He said that Pohnpei State has had a hard time proving why they need the other $40 million and they have a limited time to do so. He would bring that topic up during the review. He expires and said that if elected he plans to discuss that issue with the US when the time comes.
John Ehsa said that he intends to evaluate where the State has succeeded and where it has failed. He also wants to bring to the table the devaluation of the initially negotiated Compact due to the unpredictably high price of fuel which in Pohnpei has gone up 18 cents at the pump in the last three weeks.
Jack Yakana, speaking of the US said that he had found that "The more you ask the less they give." He had only one request. He wants funding for alternative fuel sources.
What can be done to aid the private sector? What do you think about the Foreign Investment Bill?
Yakana was asked what his administration would do to help develop the private sector and what he thought about the Foreign Investment law. He said that there is too much reliance on the public sector and that there is too little money in circulation in the State. In a situation such as the State faces, foreign investors are needed. He said that the current administration does not support the foreign investment law passed last year despite the Governor's veto of the law. He said, "it is not working for us", and that it benefits only a handful of local business people. If he is elected he will ask the Legislature to amend the law.
Pangelinan responded in overtime that the government needs to do more to support the private sector and that business people are handicapped by the lack of help of government. Regarding the Foreign Investment law he was adamant, "The law needs to change-period!" He said that it sends negative messages to the outside and that it was based on a few businesses protecting their own interests by a strong lobbying effort.
Perman said that the private sector is the backbone of Pohnpei's economy. He said that he would probably be the only candidate supporting the Foreign Investment law and that it was not an "anti-foreign investment law". It is instead, a law to balance out what people of Pohnpei can do in the State as opposed to what foreigners can do. He said that if Pohnpei threw its doors wide open it wouldn't be big companies that come to Pohnpei, it would be Mom and Pop stores that Pohnpeians could own. Pohnpei, he said, has no problem with serious investors.
Ehsa said that private sector growth is vital to Pohnpei. One of the keys, he said, is the reestablishment of the Chamber of Commerce. He suggested that turning over foreign investment activities to a group of already established business owners might solve the problem of foreign investors; how to attract them and how to keep them from taking over. He suggested that Pohnpei wants "serious" investors, businesses that could invest $50 million or more.
Mauricio said that export in the FSM is far behind what it should be and that he would seek to develop it. He said that if he were elected he would promote commercially based tourism in Pohnpei. He remained neutral on the issue of the Foreign Investment Law.
What area would you focus on for economic development?
Del Pangelinan was given five minutes to answer the question. He said that when you are Governor you have to deal with many sectors and that you must prioritize on the basis of what is quickly doable. Pohnpei State already has facilities to accommodate fisheries and he would prioritize that area first. Tourism and agriculture would be his next priorities.
Senator Perman said in his overtime response that he was reminded of a summit in Palikir where fisheries, tourism, and agriculture were set as the focus of private sector development in the FSM. Pohnpei has the facilities to develop fisheries but it needs to do more in his estimation. He said that the Foreign Investment law favors tourism and applauded PPA's pursuit of the Japanese Government to extend the runway at the airport in order to bring in more tourists.
John Ehsa said that he would concentrate on the reestablishment of the school lunch programs in Pohnpei. Local farmers and fishermen would have no problem selling their produce with a school lunch program for 8,000 students. If Pohnpei State, every Tuesday, put one banana on a plate for each student, This will, if Pohnpei can afford it, redistribute the wealth down to the grass roots.
Rufino Mauricio said that Pohnpei has an accommodating infrastructure in that there is enough land to develop agriculture. He would concentrate on agriculture and that wealth would be spread under his administration to farmers that have not had it before.
Jack Yakana said that agricultural experts have said that farming wouldn't work in Pohnpei State but that he disagrees with them. He would concentrate on the exportation of Black Pepper, Sakau, and Betelnuts.
Gubernatorial Candidates' Closing Remarks
Though this article is the longest that The Kaselehlie Press has ever published Del Pangelinan, in his closing statement said that the responses of the day had been shorter than the complex issues suggested they should be. He implored his listeners to make their choice carefully because they would reap the fruits of their choice for years to come.
Senator Perman implored the audience to make intelligent choices for the next Governor because he will pave the way for the people of Pohnpei. To the gathered students, "It has been said that your generation is easily bought." He warned them to be careful saying that the choice they would make as voters is important to their future.
John Ehsa closed by saying that he had benefited by his time at the forum. "If you have a shred of doubt about anything I've said…you can call me 24-7 until November 13. After that, don't bother me!"
Dr. Mauricio Rufino said that the candidates on the day of the Forum had demonstrated cooperation, honesty, and respect for each other. He challenged the students who he called the future leaders of Pohnpei State to work and think hard as they make their choices.
Lt. Governor Jack Yakana said that he took his job at Pohnpei State very seriously. Because he has children he said, "I'm going to vote for myself because I care about our future." With that, Joe Saimon of COM who had mediated the forums declared the Q&A Forums ended.
The election will be on November 13.