(Palikir, Pohnpei) The third regular session of the 15th Congress of the FSM opened on the 4th of February. All of the Senators were present in the chamber when Speaker Isaac Figir gaveled the session to order and asked for all to rise for a moment of silent prayer, a ritual observed each day when Congress is in session. The Chamber was full of dignitaries including some of the diplomatic corps, as well as visiting business people from Kobe, Japan. Shortly after the session began it was clear to all in attendance that between the FSM Congress and the Executive Branch all is not well. Vice Speaker Resio Moses expressed extreme disappointment in the fact that President Mori had a good portion of it though he still would not have been available on opening day under that plan. Speaker Figir informed the President that he had polled the members and that the members were not willing to move the session date which had already been moved back from January 10. Under the law that increased the number of sessions mandated for Congress session dates were set See "Impeachment?" on page 2 chosen to attend a prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. and a biodiversity conference in Rome rather than attending to affairs at home. Several Senators associated themselves with that statement including former President, Senator Urusemal. He tempered his association with the comment by saying that in the spirit of the New Year Congress should establish a new emphasis on working together for the future of the FSM. President Mori had previously asked Congress to consider the possibility of moving the opening date of their session to February 12 so that he could be present for FSM Congress Speaker Isaac Figir FSM President Emanuel Mori at January 10, May 11, and September 12 "unless the Presiding Officer shall set a different date or dates." Before the end of the last special session of Congress they voted to change the date for the Third Regular Session to February 4 to give members time for hearings and committee work. The November special session adjourned on November 24, 2007. Senator Nelson said in his measured way that "there is a lot of chaos at this point." He suggested that it is too early to allow for disintegration of the Government and that Congress should establish a committee to meet with the President and begin to work out their differences. Senator Dohsis Halbert said that Congress and the President should meet together to discuss issues in the Micronesian way. Figir told the Congress that when President Mori returns from "that other breakfast we'll have our own breakfast."
Perhaps the tension that is apparent in the Congress chamber or private conversations with Senators fueled public speculation that Congress is considering impeachment of President Mori. Senator Nelson told us that he had heard the word whispered but as best he knew there was no formal move for impeachment. He said that he thought that Congress is interested in trying to work out their differences rather than making such a strong move. Senator Primo said that he'd heard no talk of impeachment and Speaker Figir said that it was news to him.
A Presidential communication to Congress on the status of a $4 million grant for Chuuk and Kosrae financial reforms set off a heated debate within the halls of the Congressional office in Palikir. During their special session, Congress had indeed passed a resolution accepting the grant. Within the resolution was a designation of the President as the administrator for the monies.
According to Vice President Alik Alik, the President took those words as a green light to spend the money in the way that they originally proposed. That is what the President did. He spent the money exactly the way his office had originally proposed to do. The problem was that Congress had not yet passed an appropriation bill for the money-another stress point between Congress and the Executive Branch.
Congress was dissatisfied with the way that the President's office was handling the assignment of personnel to the FSM Consul positions in Hawaii, and Guam, as well as the Deputy Chief of Mission positions at the embassies. Those positions had been subject to the public service system meaning. The positions by law should have been announced and the most highly qualified applicants selected for the jobs.
Vice Speaker Moses said that the action of the President in pre-selecting people to fill those positions before applications were received and reviewed was "an illegal act." Congress passed a bill requiring that the President make nominations that would be subject to their advice and consent. President Mori is free to veto that bill as he pleases, subject to a later overturn of the veto by Congress if they choose to do so.
Despite the tense environment between the two branches, Congress on a busy afternoon confirmed many of the President's nominees during the session.
There are still more confirmations to come but so far Congress has confirmed the nomination of Maketo Robert for Secretary for the Department of Justice; Dr. Rufino Mauricio for Director of the Office of National Archives, Culture and Historic Preservation; Kimeuo Kimiuo for National Elections Director; Peter M. Christian for Secretary of the Department of Resources and Development; John Fritz for Ambassador to the FSM Embassy in Japan; Yosiwo P. George for Ambassador to the FSM Embassy in Washington DC; and Francis I. Itimai for Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure.
Speaker Figir said he hopes the message is conveyed to the Executive Branch that "we are ready to work with him (the President), and we must proceed, on behalf of the people of this nation…" Vice Speaker Moses said that he would be looking into whether or not the nomination of Maketo Robert was legal. He said that due to the relationship of Senator Kansou to the candidate he should have recused himself from the voting but that he did not. Senator Moses felt that the vote was spoiled.
Perhaps the strongest rebuke from Congress came on February 11 when Vice Speaker Moses accused the President of cronyism, nepotism, narrow minded thinking in his appointments, and outright corruption. He said that the delegates that participated in the State trip to China had each received an envelope from the Chinese Government containing thousands of dollars and implied that the money was a bribe.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, seventeen people were a part of the President's entourage when they traveled to China in December. A visiting President cannot leave his hotel room when he is not on official business due to security concerns. As a result, in the absence of a first lady to keep him company, the government of China asked him to invite four of his family members.
Present on the trip to China were President Mori and his four family members, Mae Mori, Aja Mori, Joe Charjulas, and DJ Fritz. The remaining representatives were Governor Robert Weilbacher and his wife, Vince Sivas of Foreign Affairs, Secretary for Foreign Affairs Lorin Robert, Ismael Dobich, Senator Frederico Primo and his wife, Senator Dion Neth and his wife, and Senator Joe Suka and his wife. There is one name missing from the list according to the numbers provided to us. Before press time we could not discover that name. Despite rumors to the contrary it was not this reporter.
The Kaselehlie Press looked into the charge of corruption and talked with as many people as we could; people that would have first hand access to the proper information.
The Ambassador of The People's Republic of China to the FSM, Liu Fei said that the government had only given the participants approximately $50 for incidentals like laundry and long distance phone calls. The Chinese Government paid for the hotel bills, meals expense, and transportation to and from official events including airfare.
Mr. Weijun You, the First Secretary of the Embassy of China said that it is not rare for China to pay for the State Visits of the leadership of developing nations who do not have the resources to pay for the trip themselves.
Ambassador Susan Cox of the Australian Embassy said that their country also allows for that practice and that former FSM President Bailey Olter had in fact made a State Visit to her country under the Guest of the State program. All expenses are paid for a Guest of the State under that program. We asked her if she knew of other countries that paid for leaders of developing nations to make state visits. She said that many governments around the world facilitate State visits in this way.
According to an Embassy source in the absence of Ambassador Miriam Hughes, the United States does not pay for foreign dignitaries to make State Visits to the US. Secretary for Foreign Affairs Lorin Robert said that he received around $250 in Chinese Yen (RNB). He said that he had a travel authorization for the trip but it was a zero money travel authorization that merely authorized his travel to China and provided no expense money.
Juliet Jimmy of FSM finance checked into the records on our behalf and found that President Mori had a travel authorization but that it was only for two days. That was to cover the expense of an overnight stay in Guam on his way to and from China. He received $125 for each of the two days to cover hotel and meals expense while in Guam which is the standard amount authorized for Travel Authorizations while in Guam.
During a quiet and hurried conversation with Senator Primo in the Congress Chamber which he may not have completely understood he said that the delegates on the trip received just enough money to cover expenses.
The above was the extent of the story we were going to run until we had a conversation with one last "in the know" person to check one last fact. During the conversation that ensued just moments before the National Government office closed for the weekend we were told why it was that Vice of corruption against the President. According to that highly placed source, one Senator who was on the trip told Senator Moses that he and his wife had received $4000 each in cash in a sealed envelope.
With one hour remaining in the National Government's week and with heart pounding we began calling every one we knew to get a confirmation or denial of this bit of earthshaking information. Senators Primo and Neth were at the funeral of the Iso Nahnken of Madolenihmw, and Senator Suka was still in a committee meeting. We still have not talked with them. We called Secretary Robert knowing that President Mori would arrive back on island on Saturday afternoon. He said that he had a scheduled meeting with the President on Sunday and that he would convey our urgent message. At press time we still had not talked with him.
Over the weekend we left a message at the hotel of former President, Senator Urusemal to see how his travel expenses were handled when he made a State Visit to China. He quite possibly did not receive the message since we didn't hear back from him over the weekend. On Sunday afternoon we did have a phone conversation with Vice Speaker Resio Moses. He gave us permission to quote him. He said that he made his public and "on-journal" accusation regarding Presidential corruption because Senator Primo told him that he was uncomfortable about the fact that he and his wife had each received a substantial sum of money from, not the Chinese Government but the Chinese fishing firm, Luen Thai, a fishing company that currently operates a fleet out of Pohnpei. Senator Moses said,
"The Chinese Government pays for everything receive beyond that should be considered a bribe!" We asked him if it was just Senator Primo and his wife that received money. He said, "All of them! They all did; every one of them." He indicated that every delegate whether they worked for the FSM government or not received money from Luen Thai.
We have been unable to verify the statement.
He said that when he traveled for a State Visit to China with the FSM's first President Tosiwo Nakayama, the Chinese government covered all of their necessary expenses and that delegates received no cash.
Lin, the base operator of the Luen Thai fishing company. He said that he didn't know enough about the situation to tell us what had happened because he was, as he put it "just the base manager". He said that his boss would be in on Monday's flight and that he might have more information on the topic.
The Kaselehlie Press goes to print on Monday morning. We will attempt to do a follow up to this story in the next issue.
Tensions between Congress and the Executive Branch remain high.
President Mori was due back to the FSM on February 16, 2008.