The Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB), an agency tasked to protect Palau’s environment, had its budget cut by the Congress for being “too pro-environment” in the recently passed FY 2021 budget.

“I think it’s enough with EQPB. We’ve received lots of complains that (it) places environment above people, people should be above environment,” stated House of Delegates Speaker Sabino Anastacio after the signing of the budget bill into law this past Wednesday.

Unapologetic Speaker Anastacio said that he speaks on behalf of all Delegates that “brakes must be put on EQPB” or EQPB’s work must be slowed down. The action to cut EQPB’s budget is said to be based on EQPB’s regulations that are not development-friendly and too pro-environment.

He added that even though EQPB is a “mechanism that controls and provides quality environment to the people”, in times of pandemic it must place people above the environment. Rather than amending the law to reflect desired policy, HOD chose to reduce EQPB’s budget. It is not clear whether the act of budget reduction was meant to weaken EQPB’s quality control or to penalize it for the policies it enforces.

Of the budget items in the FY 2021 budget, the only agency that suffered cut was EQPB. The House of Delegates reduced EQPB’s initial budget from $503,000 down to $338,000, a reduction of $165,000.

Out of the $165,000, $75,000 went to fund Mechesil Belau Conference, and $90,000 was allocated to pay for transportation of outlying states.

In response to the proposed cut, EQPB Chairman Elia Yobech wrote to the Senate saying that the proposed cut will slow down operations and force reduction of operations, not only in permitting processes but also in services such as water testing, pesticide farm inspections and responding to reported environmental violations.

In a budget compromise between House and Senate, EQPB budget was partially restored. Instead of $165,000, only $50,000 was taken from EQPB to partially fund Mechesil Belau Conference. $115,000 was sourced from the General Reserve Fund to pay the $25,000 to Mechesil Belau and $90,000 to outlying States.

President Surangel Whipps Jr. said that the reduction of $50,000 represents about 10% of the EQPB budget. “It is not that much considering that we are asking everyone to reduce their expenses by 10%,” President Whipps said.

Whipps added that concerns raised with EQPB should be reviewed. He said it is part of this administration’s policy to review and improve services and the review of EQPB is within that mandate.

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