April 01, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Palikir, Pohnpei - Public Law 15-73, the law that reformed Social Security has elicited high levels of emotion from people throughout the Federated States of Micronesia. Governors, Legislatures, municipal governments, and even local business organizations have expressed their disappointment in the passage of the law. Pohnpei's Senator Dohsis Halbert said that he would be submitting a bill to Congress to repeal the law.

The controversy over the Social Security law goes right to the highest levels of FSM government.

President Mori, in the letter that he sent to Congress on March 6 said that he was "washing his hands" of the bill and allowing it to become law without his signature. It was harshly worded and a week after the letter was sent to Congress, President Mori recalled the letter so that a new one could be drafted saying that the letter had not been sufficiently reviewed before it was sent.

Congress' Speaker Figir said that the new letter is essentially the same as the old one except that the language itself was toned down a bit. A Congress staff member said that the difference between the two letters was like simply replacing a vulgar four letter word with the scientific word for the same thing. The meaning was still the same. Neither of President Mori's two letters included particularly vulgar words. The original letter did say that the vested rights of the insured employees and their beneficiaries had been summarily "castrated" and removed by the law.

Speaker Figir replied to the President in a letter dated March 12. "I also have to object to the language of the communication that Congress somehow 'castrated' the employees and their beneficiaries. Let me assure you that Congress never meant to do such thing to anyone, at least not until we received your communication."

Figir said that he welcomed the bill becoming law and that it took a great deal of political courage for the members to pass the bill shortly before the general election of March 3. He said that the members who voted for the bill did so in order to save the social security system from what they were told was impending collapse. The members put the interests of the social security system above their own.

He reminded the President that with Easter approaching perhaps the imagery of "washing his hands" of the bill was not only untimely but "not the most appropriate behavior (for a political leader) when faced with a crucial decision whether crucifying someone or to sign a bill into law."

He said that it seemed as if the President had forgotten that in 2007 it was the Office of the President that submitted the bill to Congress and that the Social Security Administration had been relentless in lobbying Congress for its passage. He said that it wasn't "some kind of weird idea by Congress that you had no control over." He said, "Washing your hands of your own bill is something that thoroughly puzzles me."

He thanked the President for his comments for improvement of the bill but asked why it was that the he had waited until after Congress had passed the bill before making the incisive comments. He reminded the President that in the intervening period of time between his own office's submission of the bill to Congress and its passage, Congress had conducted not one but two full cycles of public hearings nationwide as well as in Hawaii and Guam and that during that time the President's office remained silent.

"Nevertheless," Speaker Figir concluded, "be assured that your comments will be considered seriously, and Congress will keep working to improve the Social Security Law."

The final special session of the 15th Congress very nearly ended early because President Mori initially refused to meet with the Committee to Wait on the President until the content of the letters exchange on the Social Security law was discussed. The rules of Congress require the committee to meet with the President in order to determine the President's priorities for the session. Without that meeting and subsequent committee report a session cannot go forward.

Ultimately President Mori agreed to meet with the committee which was chaired by Senator Dion Neth of Pohnpei. Members of the committee described the mood of the meeting as tense and uninviting. Nevertheless the meeting allowed the final special session to go forward.