Are the 16 Palau State governments still relevant or necessary? That is a question that is often voiced by many Palauans and even by many observers of our government. It is a question that is asked every time a state election takes place but not a single effort by any brave soul have been made to put forth a proposal for a change.
A familiar joke is told of someone walking into a restaurant and calling out “governor” and everyone turned around to respond. The implication is that we have too many elected representatives. And it is not just a joke but a fact. Based on latest survey, there are about 14,000 Palauans in Palau. Estimates of the population of Palauans outside of Palau is around 35,000. We have 16 states governments, each with 16 governors, 9 to 13 representatives per State, Council of Chiefs, State boards, state commissions and so on.
The question is, is it really necessary or relevant to have all these State governments? My answer to this question at this time is yes, it is still relevant and necessary. Now before some of you get your pitchforks, let me explain.
I realize that I have argued at some point for the other side and believe you me, evidence tends to be on the side of no but I believe that State government is still necessary. Yes, state governments cost a lot of money, especially if you look at them base on per capita cost. Yes, state governments have limited capacity in so many areas. Yes, they are often inefficient and yes, state governments can be easily corrupted. State governments as we can see, year after year, are losing population while their budgets are increasing.
So why do I believe they are necessary. First of all, they are necessary because they serve the very grass roots of our Palau. Despite the small size of this nation, the populations in the rural areas could so easily be overlooked by a national government that tends to look at overarching issues. Having State governments,I believe, keep the focus on the people, give those same people voice and access that would otherwise be overshadowed by louder, powerful voices at the national level.
Having State governments help to distribute wealth wider and further across the population rather than keeping it concentrated in smaller and more central groupings.
Yes, at times it is frustrating to see the slow and sometimes bumbling process at the State levels but I see local citizens at those levels directly engage their states and representatives. How valuable is that engagement? How do we assign value to that inclusive participation? How does that compare to say simply calculating their GDP? I believe it is so valuable that the current cost is a necessary expense to be paid.
Having state governments give nearly every Palauan a direct participation in their government process. I believe too that it forces the national government to constantly refocus itself because it has to go back to the stakeholders in the states.
Perhaps not getting a road paved quickly to the home of a person in Babeldaob is balanced by the ability of that person to walk to the home of his or her governor or State legislator to complain about the slow paving of his road.
Just a thought.