"Two members submit a resolution for articles of impeachment against Governor Ehsa"

March 31, 2010

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Peilapalap, Pohnpei, FSM - A resolution for the impeachment of Pohnpei's Governor John Ehsa was submitted by Senators Francisco Ioanis and Wincener David on March 10, 2010 during the special session of the Pohnpei Legislature that closed on March 26. The resolution centered on alleged financing illegalities that are funding the school lunch program introduced by the Governor at the primary school level. The resolution has been assigned to a committee for review but has not received further Legislative action.

If the report of the joint committees on Education and Cultural Affairs (E&CA), Finance, and on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (J&GO) issued on the March 9, 2010 is any indication, the resolution currently has only a small chance of passage in the Pohnpei State Legislature when they meet again in the May regular session. From the signature page it appears that most of the Senators are members of the joint committee.

The committee convened for investigative hearings on Pohnpei's School Lunch program based on a floor motion for them to do so. Members considered four possible actions as a result of their findings. They explored impeachment as one of the options but decided against that option for now.

Senator David is a member of E&CA committee and signed the joint committee report. Senator Ioanis is a member of the Committees on Finance and J&GO and signed the joint committee report twice, once as a member of each committee.

Signatures for three members of the joint committee were not present on the committee report including those of Naiten Phillip, Chairman of the E&CA, Ioseph Edgar, who is a member of the Finance committee and the Vice-Chairman of J&GO, and Benjamin Ludwig who is a member of the J&GO committee.

In order to ensure that the Executive branch would be ready to provide necessary information and documents, the joint committee first sent a letter to the Executive branch informing them that the committee would proceed with its assignment upon the new year. The E&CA committee was already in the process of oversight hearings on the matter.

"The concern of the Legislature rests mainly on the fact that while the law allows for the possibility of food services at the elementary level, the program should first be planned out carefully and should also guarantee that funding is available," the committee report (244-10) said.

The committee also expressed its concern over the inequity that surrounds the fact that over 70% of Pohnpei's Elementary School students are not receiving school lunches.

On January 27, 2010 the joint committee designated Ausen T. Lambert, the chairman of the Finance committee as the chair of the joint committee.

On January 29 three subpoenas were issued, one each for the Pohnpei State Budget Officer, the Director of the Department of Education, and the Director of the Department of Treasury and Administration. All three responded to the subpoenas the day before the scheduled hearing saying that they did not have in their possession "any minutes, notes or memoranda or similar documents of meetings" discussing or authorizing the commencement of the school lunch program which the committee had requested the witnesses to bring to the hearing. They were, however, each aware that the school lunch program was in operation which led the committee to question who, what and how the program began without any authorization or document saying that it should do so.

The committee learned in its hearing on February 4 that the "hot lunch program" is actually bowls of soup being served to students of some of the schools in Pohnpei. The Department of Education anticipates furthering such services to the remaining schools which witnesses said "have not yet received the blessing of such service."

According to the Committee report, no separate account has been set up for the costs of the food services in elementary schools. Instead, the Executive branch tapped into the accounts of food services for the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program and the secondary schools.

The committee report said that the introduction of a school lunch program at the elementary school level seems to have been driven by the Governor's campaign promises. However, the oversight of Education services was given by the Governor to Lt. Governor Churchill Edward, so that while the institution of the school lunch program started with the Governor, the implementation seems to have been directly handled by the Lt. Governor. The Director of the Department of Education has had the responsibility to ensure that the program is successful, while the Director of Treasury and Administration has had the responsibility of seeing that the program is adequately funded. The committee concluded that the school lunch program has been implemented vertically, or school by school rather than horizontally, or grade by grade. Schools appear to have been chosen by proximity to an Early Childhood Education Center or to a High School in order to make use of existing kitchen facilities and staff members.

Apparently there is an implementation schedule for the program that shows no intention of reaching the State's four largest elementary schools, Nett with 968 students, Ohmine with 798, Kolonia with 736, or Palikir with 594 students. Four of the five outer island elementary schools are not on the implementation schedule at all. Sapwuahfik is listed for implementation in December of this year but the committee believes that "may be window dressing."

The documentation available to the committee shows that of Pohnpei's 7,837 elementary school students, only 2,309 (29.5%) of them are currently receiving soup. The committee concluded that there is no time table for eliminating the inequity.

The committees' concluded that "there has clearly been a violation of the law," in the Governors' implementation of the school lunch program. The resolution for articles of impeachment lists seven separate alleged violations of Pohnpei State Law.

The committee explored four possible options: Impeachment, a Temporary Restraining Order, doing nothing, or working towards a viable program.

The committee eliminated impeachment as an option for seemingly pragmatic reasons saying, "In this case, the Governor has instituted the program, but the Lieutenant Governor has implemented it. To punish only the Governor…would be to reward the Lieutenant Governor…by allowing him to succeed to the Governorship. To impeach the Lieutenant Governor, also, would put the Speaker in as Temporary Governor until a special election could be held, or, if less than a year were remaining, until the terms of office ran out. Would a temporary Governor, or a succeeding Governor easily end a program of feeding school children? Would there be a popular reaction? And what of two cabinet officials who could be impeached for violating their own oaths of office? Are they participating in a conspiracy? Is this to be an impeachment of a Gang of Four?

"The other problem is the court delay that was experienced in two previous impeachments? (sic) There was never a legal resolution of the issues raised. The hope would be that changes that have occurred in the make-up of the judiciary would lessen this issue. But we won't know until we get there."

Though the committee said that the program might collapse under the weight of its own inadequacies, doing nothing was not an option that it would recommend. ECE funds are being used to fund the program despite Tim Donahue's recorded opposition to the use of ECE funds for extending the school lunch program. Donahue is the Education Sector Grant Manager for the Office of Insular Affairs. Without the intervention of the Legislature, both the school lunch program and the Early Childhood Education program might be in jeopardy, the committee concluded.

Working towards a viable school lunch program is not an immediately viable option, the committee concluded, because there simply are not resources available for a program of that type that would cover all students. "If the Administration and the electorate want a school lunch program at the primary school level, they must be willing to pay for it." The committee explored several options including an excise tax. The excise tax they discussed would apply to every sale between the importer and the consumer. It would also apply to all services rendered in Pohnpei. With such a tax, "there would definitely be an increase in tax revenue over the present situation."

The Joint committee recommended a two prong approach to the problem of the inequitable provision of a school lunch program and the law breaking that they say occurred in order to keep the Governor's campaign promises. They asked the Legislature's authorization to continue to pursue investigatory hearings, and at the same time, for the Joint Committee to file an action in the name of the Seventh Pohnpei Legislature in the Pohnpei Supreme Court seeking a temporary restraining order, as a step toward securing an injunction against the school lunch program.