Year 2017 achieved significant milestones, pushed limits and tested the system

January – Before the 10th government is sworn into office, debate over inauguration budget amongst members of the 9th OEK threatened to derail plans for the inaugural  event. A budget of $200k was finally approved  with majority of the funding going toward hosting of off-island dignitaries that attended the event. [restrict]

The beginning of the 2017 set what will dramatic year.  Attorney General filed charges against a foreign fishing vessel Gene 8 and the company hired a local attorney and filed a counter-claim stating that they were making innocent passage through Palau waters and shouldn’t have been arrested.

Oldias Ngiraikelau, a local attorney that has been practicing law in Palau for 30 years, was sworn in as Associate Justice of the Trial Division of Palau’s Supreme Court.

With judiciary beefing up with increase in number of associate justices, more cases were being brought to court, especially cases involving corruption in government agencies.

Customs Officer  Eudora Lucio was charged with 50 criminal charges with offense ranging from money laundering to theft of government property, tampering with government records and misconduct in public office after pocketing close to $40,000 in departure tax and green fees.

The case regarding the missing woman Jaycee Iyar Soto continue to yield no real strong leads and reward of $5000 was offered for information about the missing woman. Shortly after, Jaycee Soto’s estranged husband Inis Remoket was arrested and charged for her alleged murder.

January also marked the beginning of the two largest public infrastructure projects for Palau, the Belau Submarine Cable Project and Palau maritime improvement project. In January, Belau Submarine Cable Corporation established contract between itself and SEA-US  consortium to bring submarine cable to Palau. Expected date of the landing of the cable is October of 2017 and turn on date is expected in January 2018. The project is funded with a loan of $25 million from Asian Development Bank.

Also breaking ground this January is the start of construction for the 3 story building to house the new marine law enforcement division, a berth for a new patrol boat for marine surveillance and the new 40 meter patrol boat plus a small faster patrol craft granted through Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

Finally for January 2017, President Remengesau unveils the new tourism campaign for Palau, the Palau Legacy Project which is expected to integrate tourism marketing campaign to combat the cost of environmentally wasteful and destructive behavior.

Dr. Emais Roberts received the unanimous approval of Senate to be the new Minister of Health replacing Greg Ngirmang and vows to bring medical services to the community through improvement of community health centers.

February – The new year which is also beginning of the 10th government saw changes in the old guard despite the fact the leadership was still the same.  Following appointment of Dr. Emais to Ministry of Health in January, February began with appointment of Ernestine Rengiil as the new Attorney General for the Republic.  Ernestine Rengiil has served in this capacity during the Johnson Toribiong’s administration and accepted the appointment again to serve.

Ambassador to the United Nations Caleb Otto was recalled and Ms. Ngedikes Olai Uludong was nominated as Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

President Remengesau pushed for high end hotels and high end visitors.  Asian Development Bank issued a report on Palau saying Palau should attract high spending visitors to sustain its economic growth. Meanwhile, tourism agencies in Palau called for the delay in the implementation of the environmental impact fee which is slated to take effect on April 1, 2017.

Cases continue to proceed and in February former police officer and member of the drug taskforce was sentenced to 18 months in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Office of Special Prosecutor charged a foreign national Lilibeth Ann Garcia Sision for violation of Immigration law and crimes of obtaining government issued permit under false statements.

Appellate Court reversed Land Court decision and awards Meyuns Skojio to KSPA.  The site was earlier awarded to Rubekul a Meyuns.

Vice President Raynold Oilouch commissioned a review of Bureau of Labor and Immigration.

Regina IV, Angaur State public transport which had just returned from Philippines after a $500k repair was found to have many deficiencies by Division of Marine Transportation.

March – Ministry of Justice issued a directive stopping hiring of new Bangladeshi workers to Palau. With 1,220 Bangladeshi with work permits and 431 under process, it brings total of 1,651 bangladeshi workers in Palau.

Vice President Oilouch also sets new direction for the Ministry of Justice vowing to bring back respect for law enforcement and restore good relationship between law enforcement and community.

President Remengesau dissolved the Belau Drug Enforcement Taskforce and created a permanent bureau under the Ministry of Justice called Narcotics Enforcement Agency and transfer the personal and mandate of BDEFT to the newly created NEA.

Less than 2 months into the new government, Senate majority remove Reklai as Floor Leader and replace him with Senator Kerai Mariur as the new Floor Leader of the Senate.

OEK passed a $87 million dollar budget for FY 2017 and President signed it into law making it the first bill to become law in 2017. President line-item reduce House budget by $100k and Koror State block grant by $100k.

Number of dengue cases per month kept increasing with about 30 cases reported each month and Palau remains on Dengue Outbreak status.

Koror State Governor Yositaka reported that annual revenue from the Jellyfish Lake fees have dropped from $12 million to about $4 million.  He attributed the drop to lack of Jellyfish at Jellyfish lake.

Community, individuals, civil societies protested against the eco-resort project proposed for Belual a Smau island in Peleliu, a unique migratory bird sanctuary in the Pacific.

(April to December of 2017 will continue in the next issue)