By: L.N. Reklai

August 21, 2017 (Koror, Palau) Palau government, SOJITZ and JATCO signed the Concession Agreement for the Palau International Airport expansion and improvement last night at Palau Royal Resort.

President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed for the Republic of Palau, whilst Mr. Masayoshi Fujimoto, President and CEO of SOJITZ signed for SOJITZ and Mr. Nobuaki Yokota, President and CEO of JATCO signed on behalf of JATCO.

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In his statement, President Remengesau expressed that the Concession Agreement is a contract for the renovation and expansion of the airport and a right to manage the new terminal building for 20 years.

“Unlike other government contracts in which we count on some private company or foreign government to complete a contract for us, this contract is awarded in part to the ROP. We are not giving away control like we do in every other major contract. Instead, we are bringing in a partner to help us run the airport ourselves. By renovating and managing the airport with private industry experts, we will learn the skills we need to profitably run the airport ourselves” asserted Remengesau of CA.

“Rising tide lifts all boats and for our partners to make money, the airport has to succeed and the airport profits will be split 49/51. This is why we picked our partners so carefully.  We wanted to partner with best, to ensure mutual success,” added President Remengesau.

Remengesau reiterated that the policy decision was made over two years ago with Palau leadership to improve the airport.

The current airport built in 2001 has reached its capacity.  At peak hours where there would be congestion of people both inside the terminal and outside the terminal. These conditions pose safety issues, degrade visitor experience and diminish efficiency.

“If we wait for government to have $25 million in the bank, this improvement will be slow in coming,” stated Remengesau.

Remengesau quoted a saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for one day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for lifetime” to explain the partnership relationship with private partners.

Mr. Fujimoto, President and CEO of SOJITZ, expressed his belief that the improved airport terminal under the Concession Agreement will bring future growth to the Republic of Palau.

He pledged that they will use their strong business relationships to enhance this relationship and to make Palau International Airport the most prominent gateway to Pacific region.

“We hope this will be the beginning of a long term successful relationship,” added Fujimoto.

Nobuaki Yokota, President and CEO of JATCO expressed that they will bring their 60 years of airport management experience to the management of Palau airport, to make the “most comfortable place for passengers” and request the country’s support.

“Japanese companies are going to join the management of the airport and it is your airport. Please support the project,” entreated Mr. Yokota.

Speaker Sabino Anastacio of the House of Delegates spoke on behalf of both houses of Congress saying that they expressed their support of the project and have done so by resolution and by law.

“Japan has provided major support to Palau including over $30 million for Palau-Japan Friendship Bridge, the current water improvement projects and many more over the years,” stated Speaker Anastacio.

“There’s no doubt that Japan is an honorable country and a very good friend of Palau and we do trust that they will do a great job,” expressed Anastacio.

The event was witnessed by Palau’s leadership consisting of elected officials, traditional leaders and various stakeholders and private sector.

Meanwhile, a letter from two citizens, Dr. Minoru Ueki, a former ambassador of Palau to Japan and a local business woman, Tarita Holms, to President Remengesau Jr. expressed concerns about the legality of the Concession Agreement.

The letter states that the Concession Agreement may not be valid because the law authorizing him to sign such agreement did not comply with Open Government Act and the rules of procedures of both House and the Senate.  The letter states that no public hearings were conducted on the bill and therefore maybe in violation of the Open Government Act.

The authors also expressed their disappointment over the “rushed” nature of the process to pass the airport expansion bill.

Furthermore, they expressed that the public was not consulted about the project and no study was conducted on such “large and expensive decision”.  In addition, the letter states the project was not in line with Responsible Tourism Framework the President endorsed.

“We strongly believe that this project of expanding the airport is not a high priority for our very

limited government revenue at this time” stated Dr. Ueki and Ms. Holm in their letter to President Remengesau.

The renovation and expansion of the airport terminal is expected to start in 2018 and will be completed by 2020.  The airport will be open and fully functional during this project. [/restrict]