June 11, 2008

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FM - May 23, 2008 - Governor John Ehsa of Pohnpei held a live press conference in the Governor's conference room in the Executive Branch office building on the 23rd of May. He said that to the best of his knowledge it was first of its type since Trust Territory days. He announced his intention to hold a quarterly press conference in order to keep the public informed.

Specific invitees included members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the media some of whom were hearing directly from the Governor for the first time since he was inaugurated. Public information officers for the National and State Governments, and a representative from the Women's Association of Pohnpei were also invited. Members of the public were invited to attend the event as well. There were approximately 30 people in the room.

Throughout the rest of the world there was a potential audience of millions. The press conference was aired live on the State radio station, V6AH. FSM Telecom streams the content of V6AH to the Internet. The conference was also aired on the Baptist Radio Station, V6AF.

When asked if he held the press conference in hopes that the Governors from other states would follow suit he said that was not his motivation. He said that his motivation was to highlight the major activities undertaken during the first four months of his administration. However, "if other Government leaders follow suit wouldn't that be great?"

He began the conference by delivering a statement prepared by his staff members under his guidance and then opened the floor for questions. He said that he was pleased to report that the Legislature had confirmed most of his nominations for key departments and offices. Still pending before the Legislature are nominees for the Director of Land and Natural Resources, Administrator of the Office of Economic Affairs, and the Executive Director of the Pohnpei Housing Authority.

He spoke about his travels saying that he had made three trips since becoming Governor. The purpose of those trips was to bring new opportunities to Pohnpei State the Governor reported that each trip resulted in concrete opportunities for the State.

He traveled to the US to discuss a proposed tourism and conservation initiative that "holds a tremendous benefit for the FSM." Along with a delegation from the Pohnpei Legislature he traveled to Majuro to inspect a new fish processing facility there. As a direct result of the trop plans are under way to develop a similar facility to Pohnpei.

When asked during Q & A whether he knew anything about Oceania's widely reported plans to build a fish processing facility that would employ 2000 people in Pohnpei, the Governor said that one of the projects the company is working on is a crab farming facility and that it seemed that their interest in constructing a cannery had slowed.

Because of his most recent trip, China has agreed to fund several key development projects in Pohnpei including a grant to construct a fish processing facility similar to the one he visited in the Marshalls. He said that during that trip the delegation met with the management of several companies interested in investing in Pohnpei in the areas of bio-gas, fisheries development, alternative energy and tourism development.

The delegation visited a large market in China where Pohnpeian products such as handicrafts could be sold. During the Q & A session he described the market as huge. He was told that if someone were to visit each store in the market for only three minutes it would take one year to visit each store if that person shopped 24 hours a day.

Rumors, prior to the press conference circulated that the Governor would be announcing that he had found funding for his "school lunch program" mentioned during his campaign. Unfortunately that was not the case. He said in his statement that currently, lunch is served for students at the pre-schools and high schools and not to those attending the grade levels in between.

He said that a menu has been developed that will be implemented in the High School and pre-school lunch programs starting at the commencement of the upcoming school year. Currently there is no funding for an elementary school lunch program. He said that besides the cost of food, funding sources would need to be found for the hiring of 45 cooks to feed the 8000 elementary school students in Pohnpei. He said that his administration continues to explore sources to support the implementation of his program.

The Micro Glory, the field trip ship that services the outer islands of Pohnpei is currently inoperable as it has been for 10 months. Experts estimate that it will take $1 million to restore the vessel to an operable condition. That amount of money would buy another 5 to 7 years of Micro Glory service at the end of which time Pohnpei would need to purchase another field trip ship.

He announced that his administration had submitted a budget to the Legislature for dry-dock and refitting of the Micro Glory.

He said that he is "very much concerned about the delayed implementation of projects under the Compact II infrastructure development sector grant." The US Office of Insular Affairs has approved the $3.7 million worth of projects submitted by Pohnpei for 8 classroom buildings for Madolenihmw High School, Kolonia Elementary School, and Nanpei Memorial High School.

He reported that the State has identified 16 projects as proposed priority projects for Pohnpei that the State will be submitting to the National Government. The first project is a primary health center. Eight classroom buildings at Sokehs- Powe, Nett Elementary, Saladak, Seinwar and Madolenihmw would be built if they are funded. He said that additional plans include a new dental annex, closure and relocation of the dump site currently located in Dekehtik, and widening of intersections in Kolonia Town.

During Q & A the governor was asked what plans there might be for maintenance of the circumferential road. He said essentially that project would have to wait for a while because it could not be funded under Compact II and the Government needs to identify funding sources.

He then went on to say that the new structures that will be built if plans are approved would be designed to last for 30 years. He said that the proposed new primary health care facility would cost over $4 million dollars. Work crews have been working 24 hours a day on the new Pohnpei State Administration project that is being provided to the State by the Government of the People's Republic of China. The Governor has received reports that the construction is progressing ahead of schedule.

On the Pohnpei International Airport Expansion Project he said that rehabilitation work on the existing runway was scheduled to begin before the end of May and that the extension of the runway is now being prepared for the bidding process. He thanked the United States and the Government of Japan for the important project.

During Q & A, a member of the audience asked him if consideration had been given to the effects of global warming on the location of the current airport. They wanted to know if another site had been considered. He said that the State had asked the FSM government several times if their experts considered that the Dekehtik site might be a problem in an environment of sea level rise. He said they still had heard nothing from them on the situation. He said that the State did its own study and that they felt that sea level rise would not be a problem. The Governor said that he hopes to build Pohnpei's reputation internationally as a key location for governments and for regional and global multilateral and non-governmental organizations. He said that Pohnpei has a unique opportunity to become the Suva of the North Pacific.

The Q & A session was halting in its beginning with all eyes seemingly on The Kaselehlie Press but once it began questions, which the Governor deftly fielded flowed quickly for nearly over half and hour. The Governor was patient in all of his responses. There were several "elephants in the room" that no one discussed or asked about but in general it was a good beginning for the Governor's stated plans for transparency.