29th Independence Day celebration is on despite public criticism

Potential boycott of the popular Independence Day Boat Race by most of the boat owners was averted late yesterday after a meeting with Minister Charles Obichang, co-chairman of the Independence Day Organizing Committee.  The Independence Day Boat Race will take place today beneath the KB Bridge.

Boat Race 2021 Palau Independence Day. Photo credit Alpert Pictures

Talk of boycotting the race and Facebook postings had people wondering if the main event that draws the crowd to the Independence Day celebration would take place. 

“The issue was internal,” said one of the boat owners and operator.  “Boat racing is very expensive venture. We easily spent $2000 dollars on fuel alone in a month preparing for the boat race. Boat parts are also very expensive. One part alone, like a propeller could set us back thousands of dollars. Due to heated discussions and inconsiderate words said at the meeting earlier today, most of us decided not to join the boat race.”

The top prize offered this year is $1,000 dollars for bigger engines and $800 for smaller engines.  The boaters received this information yesterday after they spent lots of money preparing for the races.   This set off the heated discussion that led to plans to boycott the boat race.

The Independence Day Organizing Committee was informed and the chairman minister Ngirai Tmetuchl and Co-chair Minister Obichang met with the boaters to discuss their concerns.

“He (Obichang) spoke well, admitting that this year, due to limited funds, they will not be able to raise the prizes but promised to make it up next year by engaging with us early in the discussions, and to seek more funding. They then asked for our support and we agreed so there will be boat race,” said boat owner and driver Jennifer Sugiyama, when reached for comment.

The 29th Independence Day celebration slated for September 30th instead of October 1st, has triggered criticism since its announcement couple weeks ago.  People were questioning why the celebration was moved to Friday with some linking the decision to President Surangel Whipps Jr.’s Seventh Day Adventist affiliation.  Others were asking why the planning and preparation for the Independence Day were so late, announced only two weeks before.

Minister Ngirai Tmetuchl of HRCTD and Minister Charles Obichang of MPII went public to explain the decision to move the celebration to September 30th instead of October 1st, saying that it had nothing to do with religion. 

Quoting public law 1 PNCA 701, Minister Ngirai said that if the holiday falls on Saturday, the holiday will be observed on Friday.  The law provides for one working day as a day off if the holiday falls on the weekend.

He also cited budgetary constraints and the impact on this year’s Independence Day celebrations.

“Whether the celebration takes place on Friday or Saturday, it will still cost the same.  In the same law quoted by Minister Ngirai, Friday is observed as holiday. This means that government employees will still be paid overtime or time and half, if they work on Friday or on Saturday.  I don’t see why they are mentioning the budget,” expressed a government employee who was not buying the explanations given by the Ministers.

A Facebook survey asking people if they want to celebrate the October 1st Independence on Friday, September 30 or on Saturday, October 1st, showed 88% of those that voted supporting celebrating on October 1st.

An issued presidential memo to all government ministries, agencies, boards, congress and judiciary in October of 2021 marked all legal holidays for year 2022 and the day of observations for the legal holidays. On the list of holidays, it noted that October 1st, Independence Day, falls on Saturday and that the observation will fall on Friday, September 30, 2022.

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