President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. said he does not share the same policy decision with outgoing President Tommy Remengesau on further extending assistance to foreign workers who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an earlier press conference on Wednesday, President Remengesau said while the passage of the extension of the CROSS Act , that passed in 2020 to help those whose jobs and businesses were affected by coronavirus pandemic, will fall to the incoming Congress, his administration’s policy is to include foreign workers in the assistance.
“So it becomes a policy question for the 11th government whether they will include foreign workers or limit only to Palauan citizens. But this is our current policy decision, many of the non-Palauan workers under the CROSS Act are employed by Palauans, so it’s not accurate to say this is only to help the foreign workers,” Remengesau said.
The outgoing president also cautioned public officials from leaving out the foreigner workers from the aid, which could reflect badly on Palau’s reputation.
“I just want to caution that we also consider the reputation of Palau. There are many countries around the world that are at the borderline of human rights violations. They couldn’t take care of their foreign workers and when the Covid-19 started they didn’t offer them a helping hand. Businesses laid off their employees, and they were left to sleep on the streets and hungry that they went to ask Red Cross and others for assistance. Only in Palau we really realize our true Palauan spirit – our cultural values that when someone drift to our shores, we take them in and help them, and also in our Christian values to not let others suffer, even though they are from another country,” He stressed.
Last year, UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha lauded Palau adding that UN has advocated that every country, “have an obligation to ensure everyone is protected and included in the response to this crisis.”
But Whipps do not agree that leaving out foreign workers in assistance is a violation of human rights.
He said the employers are responsible for the welfare of their foreign workers and if they can’t pay them or give them jobs, they should send them home.
“It’s not a violation of human rights, it is the right thing to do.” Whipps said amid the crisis, Palau has very limited funding and tourism might not recover for a while.
He said it’s not easy to make a decision to limit the assistance to Palauans only.
“But I think Palau has been the most generous country in the world to accommodate the workers for the last nine months,” Whipps said.
Whipps also reiterated that Palauans could be put to work replacing the 1,200 foreign workers that are being subsidized or employed by the government under the job placement program under the CROSS Act.
He said we live on borrowed money and the limited resources of Palau should be used wisely.
Whipps however said while he might disagree with the policy decision of the president on the Cross Act, he is open to discussions and leaves it to Congress to review proposals on the planned extension of the Cross Act.
He is also open to hearing various viewpoints on the measure and finding the best solution to move forward.