2017 had its incidents and challenges but certain key policy issues were raised and continued at forefront for most of the year.
In April, a news article from Vietnam showing House Speaker Anastacio signing a cooperative agreement with Vietnam drew criticism from social media and from home.
In the same month, a group of Palauan businessmen established a Palau-China Economic council meant to promote business cooperation with People’s Republic of China (PRC).
President Remengesau in a statement said he did not see anything wrong with other branches of the government promoting Palau in their own capacities and encourage that they push for “high-end investments” when they do so.
In May, Senate introduced a joint resolution calling for establishment of direct trade agreement with PRC. In July, the joint resolution was struck down in vote of 5-5 at Senate special session.
Minister of Finance reported half way into the year that the national government had already collected over 51% of projected revenue for FY 2017. Also reported, despite decline in number of visitors, government has collected over half of projected hotel room tax for 2017.
The newly appointed Director of Public Safety Omtei Ringang passed away due to illness, only a month after his appointment.
2017 seemed marked with unusual deaths. April 11, a body of Jack Elwais was found floating in waters near Bital Oyang. Later in November, a body of Oingerang Obakrairur was found also floating near Hiromi Nabeyama’s place in Malakal. Other tragic deaths include three suicides, two of which occurred in Ngaraard and other two of people were found death in their own homes, both occurred in Ngerbodel, Koror.
In April, President Remengesau Jr. delivered his first State of Republic Address of the 10th Government, calling for a steady course and emphasizing delivery on his promises. Some of those promises include increasing minimum wage, increasing Social Security benefits, reforming tourism industry toward high-end, high quality industry. His other promises include improvement of infrastructure such as sewer, water and submarine fiber optic cable, improvement of airport terminal and increasing Palau’s use of green energy by 20% by year 2020.
Court issued one of its toughest sentence, sentencing Arnold Buck for drug trafficking to 57 years imprisonment, highest in Palau’s history.
Land Court operations were restored after seven months of inactivity due to impasse by previous congress over amendment to re-open public land claims. Land Court finally able to hear cases and adjudicate land cases.
Controversy over Jellyfish Lake closure ensued between Koror State Government and Koror State House of Traditional Leaders. HOTL imposed a traditional moratorium “bul” over Jellyfish Lake after receiving report that the famous jellyfish have disappeared from the lake. Koror State challenged the bul through a court system. Meanwhile, national government supported the closure of the Lake but seek peaceful resolution on the issue.
The handover of the small patrol boat Euatel, marks the initial delivery of the huge grant from Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Peace Foundation to Palau to support its maritime enforcement program. Total grant value is $60 million and include another 40 meter patrol boat, a marine law enforcement facility and a berth for the patrol boats. Sasakawa Foundation funds training, salary and fuel for the next 10 years.
Senate Legal Counsel Amanda Ledford resigned from her position when she was told to recall her opinion on the appropriation of NCD fund by OEK to purchase medical referral housing in Manila. Speaker Anastacio demanded she issue public apology for her statement.
Former Customs Officer Eodora Lucio was sentenced to one year imprisonment for each of the crimes she pled guilty to, Money Laundering, Theft of Government Propery, Use of Computer in Commission of a Crime, Misconduct in Public Office and Tampering with a Government Record.
Two Palauan students were accepted to top US Naval academies. Brent Naito went to West Point Academy and Rongel Marcil went to US Naval Academy.
May – marked the first deaths as result of dengue fever. Since the outbreak in October of 2016, a total of 150 people were reported to have contracted the fever. Three have contracted the virus and due to pre-existing diseases, they were unable to fight the virus and died. This month also, Ministry of Health upgraded Dengue Outbreak to Dengue Epidemic and Public Health Emergency Operation Plan activated.
Also in May, the Jellyfish Lake controversy continued with KSG seeking Temporary Restraining Order against HOTL. After back and forths between Koror State Government and House of Traditional Leaders, Koror State Legislature introduced a bill to declare temporary moratorium of visitors to the Jellyfish Lake for four months.
OEK approved the public-private partnership for the airport improvement through House Joint Resolution 10-8-2 endorsing President or his designee to execute and enter into contracts with private companies in Japan to improve the airport terminal.
Director of Marine Resource Leon Remengesau was charged with six counts of criminal offenses and pled not guilty to the charges.
Faustina Rehuher-Marugg was appointed to the Ministry of State as the new Minister of State.
Funding for Palau’s COFA Agreement of $123.9 million was included in President Trump’s budget submitted to US Congress.
Two delegates, Mario Gulibert and Noah Kemesong were removed from their committees by two resolutions adopted during House of Delegates Special session at the end of May 2017.
June – began with some positive news. Palau Hotel re-opened its doors to public after extensive renovation of the facility. The hotel which was initially built in 1982, was renovated and expanded from 32 to 48 rooms including 3 penthouses on the 5th floor. The owner, an investment group from Taiwan is still the same.
John Sugiyama becomes the new Ngirturong of Ngeremlengui. At his installation, 9 Palauan monies were collected plus $45,000 and 22 toluk from the matriarchs of the Ngerturong clan.
On time, the shore-end of the fiber optic cable reached the landing station in Ngeremlengui. Cable landing station’s completion is expected the end of this month.
Two young medical students, Ms. Rilang Roberto and Samantha Olkeriil graduated from I-Shou with medical degrees. They are the first graduates of this post-bachelor School of Medicine program and will be undertaking their internships in Palau.
Six months after it returned from overhaul in the Philippines, Regina IV, has been plagued with one problem after another. Marine Transportation cited it for number of deficiencies in February and in June, Colorado Shipyard, the company that was contracted to repair and replace the engine, refused to honor its contract. The repair cost was at $500,000.
Also in June, three tragic deaths occurred within weeks of each other. A Filippino national was killed when a van carrying tourists travelling toward Koror from Babeldaob lost control and slammed into their van. He was a passenger in the van. A chinese national was caught in a conveyor belt at Ngeremlengui quarry and was crushed. And a 15 year old boy was found death by his parents. He had hanged himself. He was the youngest suicide victim of the year.
By end of third quarter of 2017, government was showing strong collections with Minister of Finance Elbuchel Sadang very optimistic that they will reach their budget goals for FY 2017. Again, despite expected decline in visitor arrivals, they reported that they have collected 66% from Departure tax, and 68% from Hotel Occupancy tax.
July – Ninety-five (95%) percent of Palau’s total population have medical insurance under the national medical health insurance reported Palau Healthcare Fund Governing Board. 95% of Palauan population have NHI or National Health Insurance coverage and 92% have Medical Savings Accounts (MSA). The insurance include non-Palaun employees as well.
2017 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by U.S. Government again ranked Palau as Tier 2 country. In the report it states that “Official complicity plays a role in facilitating trafficking”. OEK was again questioning how this report came about.
Senator Reklai was stripped of Chairmanship of Senate Tourism Committee and membership in the Foreign Affairs Committee after voting against the resolution to establish trade agreement with PRC.
Government dismissed the murder case it filed against Inis Remoket over the disappearance of his estranged wife Jaycee Ochob Iyar in 2016. Government said it did not have enough strong evidence to pass the test of reasonable doubt. They said they can refile the case if they get more evidence.
Former President Kuniwo Nakamura sounds alarm at his speech at the opening of Senate’s Third Regular Session. The alarm is in the declining number of Palauans. He urged OEK to come up with policies to reverse this trend.
Arguments and disagreements erupted at Senate. Senator Senior says her trip to Guatamala was cancelled by Senate President Baules because she also voted against the resolution to establish trade agreement with PRC. Baules contested the statements saying it was due to cost of getting a visa.
Senator Senior resigned from Senate committee memberships citing inability to serve due lack of support from Senate leadership and unacceptable and disrespectful actions by Senate President.
Senator Reklai also submitted his resignations from chairmanship of committees citing number of issues including being in a “bizarre limbo” created by Senate President Baules when he announced his removal from chairmanship.
Deputy Chief of Staff Rebluud Kesolei suffered a major stroke and medivac to E-DA hospital in Taiwan. A neurosurgeon Dr. Cheng-Loong Liang from E-DA Hospital who was visiting Palau conducted an emergency surgery to reduce pressure and prepare Kesolei for flight to Taiwan. Dr. Liang accompanied Deputy to Taiwan.
COFA Board of Trustees reported that Palau’s Trust Fund has reached $211 million dollars. Initial investment was $66 million in 1994 and since then has grown to $211 million.
Palau Public Utilities Corporation (PPUC) reports that it expects to $3.5 million in losses in 2018. They say this is due to the fact that KASP Loan payment will be due in 2018. PPUC said Waste Water operational expense will be around $7.2 million and they expect to generate only $5.2 million in revenue. KASP loan payment of $2 million will be due in 2018, bringing to total cost to $9.2 million creating a shortfall of $3.5 million.
Senators contest information in the press release issued by Senate President Hokkons Baules. They argue that the statement that bills undergo “intense debate” and some senators “chose to be idle during work on the bill” are false statements. Senator Inabo that they are intentionally excluded and informed of meetings really late, making it hard to participate. Senators also claim lack of public hearing and discussion on bills. [/restrict]