COLONIA, Yap—Last week, on their return trip to Yap after the end of the Second Special Session of Congress, two senators representing the State of Yap to the 18th FSM Congress held a six-hour meeting with members of the Yapese Association of Guam.
Nearly 100 members of the association turned up for the meeting held at the Mangilao Community Center. The Yapese in attendance included officers of the association, business owners, resident workers, students, veterans, and others. Former Yap State governor and now FSM Consul-General in Guam Robert Ruecho was also in attendance.
The meeting was at the invitation of the Yapese Association of Guam wanting to discuss a number of concerns and issues affecting the State of the Yap and the FSM nation. The meeting also allowed the two senators—Joseph J. Urusemal and Isaac V. Figir—to address some congressional efforts towards these concerns.
One of the many concerns discussed revolved around the amended Compact of Free Association between the United States of and the Federated States of Micronesia and the near ending economic provisions under Title 2 of the amended compact. Of keen interest to the group is what the FSM leadership is doing to better plan and prepare the nation comes 2023 when the annual U.S. grant assistance to the FSM under the amended COFA expires.
The two senators shared that FSM President Manny Mori in 2012 issued an executive order establishing the 2023 Planning Committee consisting of executive leadership from the four FSM States and the FSM national government. The primary goal of the committee is to make recommendations toward the creation of a comprehensive action plan for the development goals of the nation that would eventually lead the nation out of its economic challenges and toward its goal of self-sustainability. The FSM Congress appropriated a $150,000 budget for the committee in 2012.
In line with this, the senators shared that Congress also appropriated $5 million into the FSM Trust Fund during the second session of the 18th Congress as a means to address the fiscal and economic challenge after the expiration of the economic assistance from the United States. More notably, Congress also reduced the national government’s annual share of the compact sector grants by half, and distributing it over the four state governments. Yap State will get an additional $700,000 annually for the remaining term of the compact.
In addition, the senators also informed the group that certain tax laws aimed to reform the FSM tax system and generate more revenue remain pending. It is estimated that Yap will generate an additional $2 million in annual tax revenue after the tax reform is implemented. However, the FSM Revenue Administration Act of 2012 requires that all four states have to pass value added tax legislation prior to March 31, 2014, before any tax reform can be implemented. Yap has not passed its VAT legislation due to a conflict in law with the Yap State Constitution.
The senators also talked about a bill before Congress aiming to amend the current FSM telecommunications law to liberalize competition; establish guidelines and standards for enhanced access and affordability of telecommunication services; and create a regulatory authority to regulate telecommunication service providers in the FSM. This bill, if passed before February 2014, will open doors to monetary grants and technical assistance from the World Bank for a fiber optic connectivity project into Chuuk, Kosrae, and Yap.
The senators also emphasized their beliefs in promoting investments—both the investments of businesses into the FSM, and investments in the education of FSM students.
In particular, the senators shared the number of scholarships funded by Congress this year, including a $1 million appropriation into the FSM National Scholarship, a $100,000 congressional appropriation into the Yap State Scholarship fund, availability of the FSM SinTax Scholarship for graduate students, the Merit Scholarship, and other recent subsidies to neighboring colleges to offset the debts of FSM students. The senators encouraged the students in attendance to apply to these scholarships by contacting either the State or FSM scholarship offices.
The Yapese Association of Guam also discussed a number of concerns that the two senators agreed to take up with the appropriate FSM and Yap State leadership.
These include a request to revisit the attempt to change the FSM laws to allow for dual citizenships. The group believes that failure for the law to pass in the past was due to insufficient public education on the proposed amendments, and the high voting percentage mandated by the FSM Constitution. This also initiated the group to inquire about the status of the next FSM constitutional referendum.
Another of these concerns include a plea to the Yap State leadership to look into establishing a dialysis facility in Yap as a growing number of Yapese are moving to Guam for this medical purpose. Additionally, the group also requested the senators to take up with the Yap State leadership the need to build a Yapese Community Center in Guam for the growing Yapese population.
The meeting concluded with the group sharing a number of social issues caused by the increasing population of Yapese and other FSM citizens residing in Guam, including high prison rates and homelessness. When asked what the government can do, the senators asked the residing citizens to instead ask what they as residents can do. It’s a good Yapese cultural norm, even while in Guam, to be “good fellow villagers when visiting someone else’s village, or face the consequences imposed by the villagers,” the senators stated.
This meeting marks the first open consultation the senators have had with constituents outside the FSM in their quest to keep the public informed and engaged in government affairs. For more information or questions on the works of Congress, visit www.fsmcongress.fm. (PR)