Senate Legal Counsel Pro Tem Siegfred Nakamura recommended to the Senate to amend senate rules regarding confidential documents and to take actions in ensuring that no copies of the controversial airport documents should be made.

In a letter dated May 10, 2018 which was addressed to Senate President Hokkons Baules, Senate Vice President Mark Rudimch, and Senate Floor Leader Kerai Mariur, senate legal counsel Nakamura recommended that Senate Rule 13 (H) be amended.

Nakamura’s recommendation for amendment of the rule states that, “All committee reports, legal opinions by the office of the legal counsel, and official documents shall be documented and filed and available to all Senators, provided, however, that documents deemed confidential by the President of the Senate shall be housed at the Office of the Legal Counsel.”

Nakamura’s recommendation further added that, “Any senator wishing to view confidential documents must do so at the Office of the Legal Counsel, with at least one Senate legal counsel present, after signing a non-disclosure agreement. Said confidential documents shall not be removed from the Office of the Legal Counsel without authorization by the President of the Senate.”            Nakamura’s recommendation sparked from the alleged “dispossession” of airport documents from the office of the senate legal counsel by the four members of the senate minority bloc namely Senators Camsek Chin, Rukebai Inabo, J. Uduch Senior and Mason Whipps.

The letter also stated that after Nakamura’s office received another request from other senators to view the airport documents on May 9, he sent a letter to the four senators asking them to return the documents as the other senators also wanted to view it. On the same day, senators Whipps, Senior, and Chin appeared to Nakamura’s office to return the documents, according to the letter.

Nakamura’s associate attorney had then informed senators Whipps, Senior, and Chin that the senators are welcome to view the airport documents at their office but emphasized this time that it should only stay there.

“The four senators, Whipps, Inabo, Chin, and Senior, had the documents for two days before they were returned to our office. This is enough time to produce the documents,” the letter reads.

The Senate Legal Counsel Pro Tem stated in the letter that all senators are aware of the “possible breach of confidentiality, should the documents be made public or otherwise viewed by unauthorized persons”.

“…it is my belief that due to the Senators having been duly informed of the risk of breaching confidentiality, the actions of individual Senators pertaining to the documents are taken at their own risk,” the letter stated, adding that it is up for the Senate to take action about the possible consequences of the document’s alleged dispossession.

“Should any information in the documents be shared in breach of the confidentiality regarding documents, and therefore hinder or otherwise impede the integrity of the negotiations between the Republic of Palau and the Japan company working on the airport expansion project, there is the potential allegation that Senate may be liable for the exposure of the information in the documents to those who are not authorized to view their contents,” the letter also stated.

Previously, the Palau Supreme Court Trial Division ruled in favor of the government and dismissed the case filed by Senators Whipps, Inabo, Chin, Senior and Regis Akitaya over the non-disclosure of information about the airport expansion project against defendant Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industries, and Commerce (MPIIC) Charles Obichang.

“Nowhere in the order does it state that a Senator m[a]y take or otherwise dispossess the documents from my office,” Nakamura stated in his letter, referring to the order on the airport lawsuit case which was labeled as “Order Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (“Order”) in Civil Action No. 18-025.

Comments and Reactions

When asked to comment about the Senate Legal Counsel Pro Tem’s letter regarding the alleged “dispossession” of the airport documents that was shared to the media, Senate minority bloc member Senator Uduch Senior told Island Times that it was her first time hearing about such letter and said that she was surprised about it.

Senator Senior, however, refused yet to give any specific comments on the said letter but reiterated that they still stand on their ground that the airport documents are public documents.

Senior, however, told us about their May-14 letter to Minister Charles Obichang (Read related story titled “Five Senators question gov’t refusal to make airport documents public).

Meanwhile, Senate Vice President Mark Rudimch, who is one of the recipients of Nakamura’s letter regarding the alleged dispossession of airport documents, told Island Times via e-mail that “the Letter by Senate Legal Counsel Nakamura is a confidential work document, an attorney-client communication that we still have to review and decide on a course of action, if any.” (Rhealyn C. Pojas/Reporter)