March 18, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Palikir, Pohnpei, FSM - When early December flood waters washed across FSM's low outer islands the damage was enormous. The ocean, when it receded brought home with it large portions of the shore lines of those islands. Retaining walls designed to hold off the sea were in left in ruins. Most importantly, taro patches and other crops were inundated with salt water and lay scorching in the sun in the wake of the capricious Pacific Ocean.

Relief was required for islanders whose food supplies were damaged or even destroyed.

Governors from each of the states issued declarations of emergency. Some FSM states were later than others in declaring a state of emergency due to technical communications problems and other problems of human error but as soon as the last state declared the emergency, the President of the FSM declared a state of emergency for the nation and monetary aid flowed. It flowed not only from countries interested in the development of the FSM but it flowed from within from the FSM General Fund.

Before the disaster occurred the FSM Congress passed a $1.4 million appropriations bill for public projects, an amount equal to $100,000 per Senator in the FSM Congress in order to fund projects in each of the Senators' home states. The bill detailed the projects that would be funded in each FSM state.

President Mori vetoed that bill saying that there were other more pressing needs in the FSM. He prepared an alternative bill and submitted it to the Congress.

In the face of the emergency, on January 6, 2009 Congress overrode the veto.

On the face of things it appeared that Congress acted selfishly but according to a committee report from the Ways and Means Committee the motivation of Congress was altruistic. The report said that a Congressional override of the Presidential veto was the fastest way to provide financial resources for the emergency in the outer islands.

"The amount appropriated by this bill of $1.4 million represents the sense of Congress as to the maximum that the President should spend under the declaration of emergency at this time," the report said.

On January 9, three days after the Congress override of his veto, President Mori issued a decree that allowed him to spend the money he needed from the FSM General Fund in order to meet the demands foisted upon the FSM by the whim of the Pacific Ocean.

At press time, all but $406,000 of the $1.4 million appropriation had been spent.

The intent of the Congress override was apparently not communicated well with the election district offices in the states. As early as the 12th of January, three days after the Presidential decree, election district officials in Chuuk began to submit Project Control Documents (PCD's) for projects thinking that the Congress override of the Presidents' veto meant that their projects would be funded by the law. Because of the Presidential emergency decree issued on January 9, those PCD's were returned to the election districts where they originated, much to the consternation of the officials there.

A Congress press release said that the Congressional override of Mori's veto provided $1.4 million for the emergency. It did do that but according to FSM law the Executive Branch must replenish the funds that it used for the emergency.

According to Speaker Figir, the most recent report submitted by the FSM Office of Statistics, Budget and Overseas Coordination (SBOC) said that the FSM General Fund has a remaining balance of $350,000.

Congress didn't really expect that the President would spend as much as it did on the disaster relief. FSM never has done so before.

A Congress staff member said that the situation was like telling a house guest that he could help himself to food in the refrigerator only to find that the guest had eaten everything except for a withered hot dog, three ketchup packets from a fast food restaurant, one slightly wobbly and discolored egg, and something resembling a green furry rodent hidden in the far right corner of the fridge.

A Kaselehlie Press article published in April of 2004 said that Typhoon Sudal destroyed 5% of the homes in Yap. Speaker Figir said that to the best of his recollection, in the aftermath of the typhoon the National Government spent a total of $10,000 to assist the state with fuel for supply ships. He said that was the extent of National Government participation in the recovery from Sudal.

Speaker Figir said that Congress has not received a report from the Executive Branch on FSM General Fund expenditures for the emergency. He said that the understanding at Congress was that approximately $650,000 was spent for rice for the inhabitants of the islands and approximately $350,000 for fuel for the ships that carried the relief teams.

The Office of SBOC said that the population of the effected islands was most recently estimated at 19,173 people. According to the anecdotal expense figures that the FSM Congress has received to date, the FSM National Government bought approximately $33.90 worth of rice for every man, woman, and child in the effected outer islands. The law currently says that the Executive Branch must replenish the funds which it does not have the money to do without putting the FSM Government into a deficit position.

It is within Congress' power to eliminate the problem by amending the law. The last special session of the 15th Congress of the FSM begins on the 16th of March. It remains to be seen what Congress will choose to do about the situation.