A policy briefing for the Third National Environmental Symposium (NES) brought together senatorial and presidential candidates, conservationists, and media representatives to discuss food, economic, and energy security in Palau.
Held on Thursday morning at the Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. Building at the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), the briefing was aimed to ensure that themes discussed at the Third NES in August, such as reforming law to allow for social entrepreneurship, conservation of natural resources, and local control of businesses are incorporated into government policy by the upcoming administration. The meeting included 18 candidates for the Senate and the House of Delegates. Representing the 2020 presidential candidates alone was Surangel Whipps Jr.
Much of the discussion among the members of the meeting focused on the empowerment of young entrepreneurs, and the education of “life-skills” such as farming and fishing.
Mr. Frutoso Tellei, candidate for the Melekeok House of Delegates, said that the government should give more attention to the private sector, citing a group of young men from Melekeok who started a business called “East Coast Rentals”.
“Also we’re very proud of Miel, who inspires our young Palauans,” Mr. Tellei added, in reference to Miel Sequiera-Holm, whose development of a local reef-safe sunscreen earned her the role of Keynote Speaker at the August Symposium.
Ms. Irene Olkeriil said that the government must take action to promote this type of local production. “I am an activist and appreciate action,” she said. She emphasized that the government should support the exportation of products made in Palau, by implementing changes such as tax-breaks for young startups.
Issues which were echoed by many of the candidates were the shortage of boats for Palauan fishermen and the shortage of land for farmers, which have so far limited the successes of agricultural and fisheries initiatives, such as the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS).
Senatorial candidate Joanne Risong Tarkong said that the national and state governments have to start addressing this shortage of resources, and reviewing tax laws to allow for greater opportunities for farmers and fishers.
“We need to review and look at our tax laws,” said Ms. Tarkong. “We need to empower our agricultural and fisheries industries in Palau.”
Surangel Whipps Jr. echoed the need for tax reform, which he said has been a problem since 1997. He argued that reforming the tax system is essential to make local production economically beneficial.
“If someone wants to start an egg farm on Palau, for instance, they have to get a chicken and chicken feed from outside, which is taxed, hire workers for the farm, which is taxed, and they also have to pay a GRT,” he said. “It comes to about 11% tax for someone who wants to sell eggs in Palau, as opposed to getting eggs from the States, which is 0% tax.”
He argued that the current tax system is “outdated”, and works against small business.
“Nothing is fixed in stone,” Surangel added. “Always continue to refine.”