Never has there been a year like 2022 where several significant events and changes occurred within 12 short months that, looking back, seemed improbable.
Palau experienced its first COVID-19 infections surges at the beginning of the year, with the first four COVID-19 deaths reported. By the end of 2022, the number of deaths reached nine people.
Successful handling of COVID cases resulted in many vaccinations and easement of restrictions. Within the year, the country went from strict testing before the flight and after-arrival testing procedures to removing testing. Schools closed and went to virtual classrooms at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year, schools were back to face-to-face instruction with no mask requirement.
The hospital restored regular services, and restrictions were eased.
In addition, Belau National Hospital started the health digitization system, the Olangch Project. By December 2022, the project’s three components will have been launched.
The hospital received many donations in 2020 to help with the COVID response, but the assistance did not end in 2021 and continued to 2022. By December 2022, Palau and Japan turned over the first mobile, self-contained, state-of-the-art ICU Isolation Unit for the treatment of severe illnesses.
Ministry of Education also started out the year with temporary school closure, moving to online classes while MHHS tried to mitigate and control the first spread of COVID in the community.
By mid-year, the in-classroom instruction had returned, but the new education programs, re-organization, and new school system had been implemented. The significant changes were implementing the year-round system and the digitization of the MOE records. Teachers and principals protested against the new programs, which were quieted and resolved internally.
At the same time, public transportation system using the busing system was implemented.
Finance & Fintech
2022 was the year to get Whipps’s fintech plans established, with the Ministry of Finance in charge of getting them off the ground. In January, the Digital Residency Program was implemented with the contracting of Cryptic Labs to manage the system. In February, Palau’s first Digital Residence, Tim Draper, US Venture Capitalists, was inaugurated. By year-end, despite cryptocurrency tanking all over the globe, Palau continues to implement its MOU with Ripple to launch stablecoin.
Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao, known as “CZ,” visits Palau to promote the use of blockchain technology in Palau.
Minister of Finance, who serves as Palau’s lead representative on the Compact Review, meets with the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy, Ambassador Joseph Yun, in Washington, D.C., to conduct Compact negotiations with Palau, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
Several meetings took place throughout the year on the Compact Review, with President Whipps asserting that Palau was not willing to accept the previous offer by the US government.
Palau, with other FAS states, jointly issued a statement saying they won’t accept the status quo and sought an increase in the financial packages.
Palau hosted its first international conference, co-hosting with the United States the 7th Our Ocean Conference. The first large influx of visitors since 2019, over 600 participated in the event.
Huge commitments were made during the conference, with a total of 410 commitments
worth $16.35 billion dollars at the 7th Our Ocean Conference in Palau.
President Whipps made a commitment to reach 100% renewable by the year 2030.
Congress sought to amend the Palau National Marine Sanctuary law. The issue raised both traditional leaders and civic leaders to oppose the proposal. The public backlash against the proposal led to the law being modified to allow for marine spatial planning instead of re-opening the no-take-zone of the PNMS to commercial fishing.
Strengthening local fisheries industry as well as local productions grew in 2022 with a number of events held to promote and showcase local produce with hashtag#keledangercheled.
Promotion of locally made products also increased with more and more new products introduced.
Palau saw more high-level visits in 2022 than any other year. Palau received Vice President Lai Ching Tse with a large entourage of public officials and the private sector to promote more interactions between the two countries.
Palau also received on two separate occasions congressmen from the United States who expressed that their visit was to learn but also reiterate the importance of the relationship between the United States and Palau.
Ministers/Parliamentarians from the Australian government visited Palau to also strengthen relationships.
Not only lawmakers from different countries visited Palau. Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and their Minister of Defense visited Palau on two separate occasions this year.
Palau also saw the visit of Annalena Baerbock, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, and her entourage in Palau.
A major regional fracture was avoided in 2022 when Palau and other Micronesian countries, with the exception of Kiribati, chose to rescind their declaration to break away from the Pacific Island Forum and return after the SUVA Agreement.
Palau confirmed three of its ambassadors, Dave Orrukem as Ambassador to Taiwan, Alana Seid to Israel, and Peter Adelbai to Japan.
On traditional matters, Bilung Gloria Salii took over the role and tasks of Ibedul. Opposition from Koror HOTL to her and her brother, Alexander Gibbons, became Ibedul without her approval.
Bilung crowned her son Lebuu Littler as Ibedul, but Koror Chiefs accepted Alexander Gibbons as the new Ibedul. Koror HOTL and Palau Council of Chiefs accepted him as the Ibedul, High Chief of Koror.
Palau’s traditional chiefs held their first conference, while the traditional women’s group held their 27th Mechesil Belau Conference.
Koror HOTL adopted the first written form of traditional laws.
2022 was the year of training for the Ministry of Justice with international collaborations and joint exercises to improve law enforcement skills, from training with FBI, to training with US Coast Guard, to training with US military and US security team.
But it is not without its lows, with members of its police force charged for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
The Palau Judiciary was caught in a web of issues with its acting Administrative Assistant Director. A letter from a court staff citing the mismanagement and misconduct of Dechol Kotaro, then Administrative Assistant, was made public. Later this year, a new Administrative Director was hired, Ken Uehara.
One of the stalwarts of the Judiciary system, the late Arthur Ngirakelsong, passed away.
The world, as small as it is, Palau felt the impact of war in Ukraine. Prices of goods rose quite steeply with the world still dealing with the impact of COVID and shipping supply lines disrupted, and oil prices going over the top.
United States held more US military exercises this year compared to previous years. The largest military exercises involving all four branches of the US Military participated, an estimated 800 people.
Koa Moana and Exercise Valiant Shield were held nearly simultaneously.
The military exercises were not only US but partnerships with other countries. Japan’s Self-Defense Force, Australian Navy, UK Navy (participating for the first time in 100 years), India’s Navy, and Taiwan’s Military.
The goal they reported is deterrence.
Other significant developments
Palau saw the highest number of young people committing self-harm.
Senator Regis Akitaya passed away. A special election was held to fill the vacancy left by late Senator Akitaya and four candidates, Salvador Tellames, Lentcer Basilius, Ann Singeo and Henry Jackson ran for the seat. Salvador “Sadoi” Tellames won the election to become the new Senator of the 11th Olbiil Era Kelulau.
The ongoing debate between Social Security Administration and Palau National Congress turned ugly with SSA announcing to stop the supplemental benefit. OEK decided to threaten a lawsuit against stopping supplemental benefit payments. In an about-face, SSA Board fires its administrator.
WIOA distributes $15 million to claimants whose claims were originally rejected. They also paid out over a million dollars deducted from their benefits.
Cross Act continued until mid-year, and both Cross Act and Cares Act were completed in 2020.
2022 is also the year of preparation for implementing the new tax law. Debates and a letter of petition seeking delay of implementation were voiced. The implementation date proceeded without change.
Many watershed moments occurred in 2022, but Palau made it through to 2023, limping but still alive and curious about what tomorrow will bring.