President Tommy Remengesau Jr. called the “minority” senators refusal to get copies of questioned airport expansion project documents at the Senate project as “humorous,” which can only prolong the lawsuit earlier filed against the government.
The lawsuit alleged that the government denied the senators access to documents involving the project’s contract.
In his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Remengesau also assured the public that the Palau’s transactions involving the project are transparent.
“Very important to state that we believe fully on the Open Government Act, there is no information in the airport project that we want to hide from the public,” Remengesau said.
Remengesau however finds humorous the continued refusal of the senators to get the documents copies’ from the Senate. The president said the requested documents has been provided to the Senate and is available for all the senators to see.
“Its humorous actually, in a way what issues are facing this issue,” Remengesau said.
“The contracts are at the Senate, but senators don’t want to go and get their copies from the Senate. The minister have given them the documents long before the lawsuit,” Remenegsau said.
Although the first batch of documents sent to the Senate was unsigned, Remengesau said it’s the same as the final and signed documents.
Remenegsau said the minister’s purpose of providing the copies to the Senate is to allow all senators to get the requested documents.
“If anybody really want to see the documents and serious, they can go there (Senate) right now,” Remengesau said.
However, Sen. J. Uduch Senior in an interview said the documents were requested from Obichang not from any other department of the government.
She also took exception to the president’s statement that the issues raised in their lawsuit are humorous.
“We requested documents from minister Obichang of MPIIC, the governing body that produced the documents. . And the laws of this Republic especially such as this one that was authored by Pres Remengesau and the underlying fundamental rights of Citizens guaranteed by the Constitution are not humorous. I fail to see the humor in our lawsuit that seeks to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens of Palau,” Senior said.
Remengesau said its becoming an issue that the senators will not get the copies unless its provided by the minister’ himself.
He said the copies are with the Senate Legal Counsel Seigfried Nakamura.
Uduch however said Nakamura is not the Senate’s legal counsel. She said rules of the Senate requires the body to adopt a resolution appointing a legal counsel, which has been done in the past.
She also said the copies are not even in the Senate office, “its in the office of Nakamura in Airai.”
The questioned airport expansion project is the first public-private partnership endeavor in Palau.
Sojitz Corporation (“Sojitz”) and Japan Airport Terminal Co., Ltd. (“Japan Airport Terminal”), through the Palau International Airport Corporation, signed a joint venture to manage operations at Palau International Airport.
According to an earlier press release from Sojitz, under the contract, the project entails expansion of the existing international terminal.
The press release added that “operations and remodeling/expansion work is scheduled to begin between March and May 2018, once the Palau government completes their in-kind investment and project handover.”
The “minority” senators said Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industries and Commerce (MPIIC) Charles Obichang violated the Open Government Act when it failed to provide them copies of the requested documents regarding the project.
Senators said the Senate did not request for the documents and that under the law it should be provided to the citizens, group or individuals who asked for the contracts.
The senators also asked the court to strike down Section 8 of the Open Government Act, which provides exemption to government documents that can be made public.
Remenegsau said this issue raised by the senators could infringe on the duties of the government to protect sensitive data or information.
He said the Open Government Act’s purpose is to be transparent but at the same time it was enacted to ensure privacy protection and safeguard sensitive information.
“The important issue is the question on the unconstitutionally of the Open Government Act, that’s the bigger story, because we know there is some protective information about average citizens that should not be divulged.” Remengesau said. (Bernadette H. Carreon/Contributor) [/restrict]