Bikinians to determine own spending after 35 years
WASHINGTON—U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary for Insular Areas Doug Domenech has authorized full decision-making powers for the mayor and Council of the Kili-Bikini-Ejit local government in the Republic of the Marshall Islands over the annual budget of the Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund for and on behalf of the people of Kili, Bikini, and Ejit atolls.
“One of Interior Secretary Zinke’s priorities is to restore trust and ensure that sovereignty means something,” said Domenech. “Today, we recognize the leadership role and responsibility for which the people of Bikini have elected the mayor and council leaders and henceforth, will defer to them to fully assume a decision-making role over the Resettlement Trust Fund. It is appropriate that decision-making for the well-being of the people of Bikini be transferred to people of Bikini, rather than be dependent upon policy makers in Washington, D.C. However, our decision today in no way precludes any future consultations between our offices, as partners, for the benefit of the people of Bikini.”
For more than three decades, Interior has exercised the right of veto over expenditures from the resettlement trust fund in accordance with the expressed wishes of successive, incumbent KBE local governments. In 2017, the mayor and 15 of the 18 members of the KBE local government council signed Resolution 2017-39, expressing gratitude to Interior for decades of work on KBE local government matters, but no longer wanting Interior to exercise this right of veto and requesting to have greater independence in decision-making to pursue income-generating projects to strengthen the fund.
Following this request submitted by the KBE mayor and council to review a 1988 amended resettlement trust fund agreement that guides the governance of the trust fund, the Interior’s solicitor office made the determination that Interior may release its former veto authority. The veto was officially relinquished on Nov. 21, 2017, following the assistant secretary’s Nov. 16 letter to the mayor of Bikini.
Interior continues to reserve its right on two provisions provided under U.S. Public Law 100-446, 102 Stat. 1798 (Sept. 27, 1988): 1) to ask the Kili-Bikini-Ejit local government, in any one year, for information on whether the KBE local government is “not exceeding $2,000,000 for projects on Kili and Ejit”; and 2) to report to the Congress on future funding needs on Bikini Atoll as directed by the U.S. Congress “one year prior to the completion of the rehabilitation and resettlement program.”
Enacted by the U.S. Congress on Oct. 16, 1982, the resettlement trust fund was established in recognition of the destruction of Bikini Atoll by U.S. atomic testing and implemented under:
• An Oct. 26, 1988, amended trust agreement between the Department of the Interior and the KBE local government and
• An Oct. 5, 1990, memorandum of agreement between the department and the KBE local government
The resettlement trust fund is currently valued at approximately $59,000,000. (PR)