Yoichi K. Rengiil
186 Tumon Heights Road
Tamuning, Guam 96913
October 16, 2020
Ms. Leilani Reklai
Island Times Newspaper
P. O. Box 6021
Koror, Palau 96940
Dear Madam Editor:
I would like to share a few thoughts regarding my appointment to the Board of Trustees of Palau Community College. His Excellency Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., sent a letter date March 24, 2020, to the Honorable Hokkons Baules, president of the Senate, appointing Mr. Masa-Aki Emesiochel and I to serve as members of the Board. Mr. Emesiochel’s appointment was confirmed on June 4, 2020, through Senate Resolution No. 16-183. However, my appointment is probably dead because the president of the Senate has not assigned it to the appropriate committee for review and consideration. The members of the Board of Directors, teachers and staff of Belau Modekngei School (BMS) sent a letter dated April 13, 2020, to all senators, expressing their support of the appointment. I sent a letter dated April 30, 2020, to the president of the Senate inquiring the status of the appointment. Sadly, to date, I have not received any response. Subsequently, a few teachers and staff from BMS met with the president of the Senate and several other senators regarding the appointment. The senators’ comments, as relayed to me, were both interesting and perplexing. Let me explain. First, those who met with the Senate president were told that since I live on Guam, the government of Palau will be burdened with my travel expense to attend Board meetings. Secondly, those who met with other senators were told that they were unaware of the appointment because the president of the Senate had not assigned it to the appropriate committee for review and consideration. Consequently, even an excerebrose person knows that the appointment is likely discarded in the Bechars ra Ngerdebotar’s file.
Let me share a few thoughts regarding the comments from several senators and the president of the Senate. First, since we are in the age of modern technology, computers, computer programs including online virtual technologies, and peripherals are ubiquitous throughout the world, including Palau and Guam. Virtual meetings could be held using online programs such as Skype or Zoom, among others, free of charge. I am currently teaching one class at the University of Guam with 25 students using Zoom from my house. I also have had several meetings with the teachers and staff of Belau Modekngei School using Zoom, free of charge. Ngomak er Belau ma beluulechad!!! I could use the same for meetings of the Board of Trustees so that I do not have to travel to and from Palau. Secondly, the comment regarding the cost of my travel because I live on Guam is both interesting and a bit hypocritical. If the concern is the cost of travel because I live on Guam, then what about the hundreds of government employees, members of OEK, including the senators, and their respective staff, who traveled frequently, before this pandemic adversely affected international travel, to destinations outside of Palau for meetings, conferences, and many others. Many of them traveled, and when Palau is open again after this pandemic is over, will continue to travel to destinations that are even farther than Guam such as Hawaii and USA. Isn’t the same government shouldering the cost of many of these travels? Why is my travel to attend the meetings of the Board any different? I was a member of the Board of Trustees of Palau Community College from 1994 to 1998. I traveled to and from Palau to attend Board meetings for four years.
On the issue of the cost of travel, let us look at this from different perspectives. The salaries of each of the members of the OEK is $50,000 per year. They serve a four-year term, which means each member receives $200,000 as his or her salary. There are 29 members of OEK (16 delegates and 13 senators), which means $5,800,000 is their salaries collectively every four years. Mesebechii a kelel Ngersuul!!! How sad for the ordinary citizens who are taxpayers earning minimum wage, while the members of OEK are ostensibly enjoying their $50,000 salaries? Since the COVID-19 has adversely affected the economy of Palau for nearly a year, many people have lost their jobs and are now struggling because they have no sources of income to sustain their livelihood. In the meantime, members of the OEK continue to enjoy receiving their exorbitant salaries. Ngkora blil a Beriber ma Emaredong!!! Just for the sake of argument, let us say salaries of the members of OEK is reduced to $30,000 per member per year. This means each member’s salary would be $120,000 every four years. This means for all 29 members, their collective salaries every four years would be $3,480,000. This means the country could realize an actual savings from the salaries of the members of OEK in the tune of $2,320,000. This savings could be used for other functions of the government, including travel. This raises two interesting questions. First, why are members of the OEK getting paid such an exorbitant amount for serving a population of a country that is less than the people who live in the village of Dededo on Guam? Secondly, if the senators are concerned about the expense for travel, who among them would be willing to propose a legislation to amend any existing laws to reduce their salaries? If anyone believes that one day somehow, miraculously, members of OEK will amend the law to reduce their salaries, that person is either kebelung or hallucinating under illegal drugs. The other equally interesting issue is the structure of the government of Palau, particularly the legislative branch. The OEK is currently a bi-cameral legislature meaning there are two houses with 29 members serving a population of about 20,000 while Guam Legislature is a unicameral meaning one house with fifteen members serving a population of about 176,000 people. Why can’t the OEK be a unicameral legislature with less members and reduced annual salaries? Third and finally, why is OEK a four-year term legislative body? Why can’t it be a two-year term legislature so that members would be more accountable to their constituencies? This is the 10th OEK, which means it has been 40 years since Palau became a constitutionally organized country. After 40 years, I think it is time to consider major changes to the structure of the government, especially the OEK, because the population and the taxpayers should not continue to pay taxes to finance a bloated system of government. It is time for the electorate to take action either through initiatives or other forms to effect changes to the current system of the OEK. These changes should include, the reduction of the salaries for the members, a unicameral legislative body, and a two-year term system.
Finally, because of my disappointment, I have been asked by a number of my friends and relatives whether I will be supporting the president of the Senate and/or any of the incumbent senators who are seeking re-election. These were and are my response. First, the president of the senate is a very strong candidate who certainly do not need my support or vote to get elected. Secondly, among the other 10 incumbent senators who also are seeking re-election, no more than three will get my vote. I am currently supporting about three or four of the new candidates for the senate. I will do write-in votes since I do not like all of the new candidates.
I realize there may be a number of people who will disagree with me because they have a totally different opinion regarding what I have shared here. On this note, I think it was Dr. Phil McGraw who once said, “No matter how thin a pancake is, there is always the other side.” Well, I invite anyone with a different opinion to share his or her “side of the pancake.”
Yoichi K. Rengiil
Registered voter of Ngaremlengui State, Republic of Palau
Cc: Members of the Senate, 10th OEK
Ms. Bilung Gloria G. Salii mar Mechesil Belau