March 18, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM - On February 24 the Seventh Pohnpei Legislature passed a resolution that expressed their view that "the national government of the Federated states of Micronesia is not seen to be fairly representing the interests of all of the people of the Federation, and is, thereby, jeopardizing the continued existence of the Federation."

The resolution was passed because of the Legislature's concerns over the FSM Congress's passage of the Social Security bill on its second reading which ultimately reduces Social Security benefits and raises taxes in an effort to bail out the ailing Social Security Administration.

The bill became law without President Mori's signature. President Mori said in a letter to Congress's Speaker Isaac Figir that he was washing his hands of the bill by letting it become law without his signature.

The letter said that perhaps a better, "cleaner" solution would be to provide an initial subsidy of $2 million to the Social Security Administration and an annual appropriation of $1.5 million per year for the following four years.

The harshly worded four page letter is being recalled by the President's office for redrafting but not before its intended recipients had read the letter. The letter was drafted by the Justice Department and wasn't sufficiently reviewed before it was signed by the President.

The original Social Security bill was a work product of the Executive Branch rather than of Congress.

Like Pohnpei Legislature's resolution the letter says that at a time when other governments like the United States are putting together stimulus packages to try to stimulate the economy, the FSM has chosen to Burden the common people of the FSM with a higher tax and lower benefit.

Pohnpei Legislature put it this way, "various nations of the world are reacting to the global economic slowdown by injecting government monies into their economies to bail out their business sectors and get funds into the hands of their citizens, while the FSM government appears to be siphoning funds out of the hands of its citizens and businesses to bail out a government agency."

Congress's Committee on Health, Education, and Social Affairs, chaired by Senator Urusemal of Yap held many public hearings in each state of the FSM and outside of the FSM. The Pohnpei Resolution says that while they took part in the hearings and wrote long letters that suggested changes Congress essentially ignored their recommendations and passed a flawed law that will ultimately hurt the people of the FSM.

Most particularly hurt, the resolution says, will be the citizens of three states who are being told to accept a reduction in benefits and an increase in cost "because the performance of the fourth state is bringing the system to ruin."

The letters Pohnpei sent to Congress recommended the possibility of a separate program for each state based on that state's performance. One of the letters provided the illustration of a young driver's car insurance being higher when he has tickets and accidents on his driving record. Pohnpei contends that Social Security is a form of insurance and that payment levels should be based on risk, the higher the risk the higher the payment.

Pohnpei's Committee on Health and Social Services chaired by Senator Magdalena Walter said that the response of the FSM Social Security Administration has been to flatly refuse to provide copies of its budgets for fiscal years 2006, 2007, and 2008 as they requested them to do.

The resolution said that though Congressional Committee members made two complete circuits of the FSM plus travel outside of the FSM to receive public input on the bill there is no evidence in the final bill that public input had any affect on the Committee's deliberations or on the final language of the bill.

It said that despite both Pohnpei state Executive and Legislative branches expressing their dissatisfaction with the bill and the need for further information and discussion on the matter the entire Congressional delegation of Pohnpei sought a quick vote on and voted affirmatively for the bill with minimal further amendment which did not address the substantive problems in the bill.

Pohnpei State's Committee on Health and Social Services recommended that Pohnpei not move forward with the idea of pulling out of the FSM Social Security system and establishing its own Social Security system at this time.