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Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity for a Sustainable Micronesia: 24th Micronesian Islands Forum Held in Chuuk State
WENO, Chuuk—From July 10th to 11th 2019, His Excellency David W. Panuelo, President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), attended the 24th Micronesian Islands Forum (MIF). Formerly titled the Micronesian Chief Executive’s Summit until 2016, the MIF—whose membership is comprised of the Republic of Palau (ROP), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the U.S. Territory of Guam, the FSM National Government, and the FSM State Governments of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap, and Chuuk—meets annually to discuss issues of regional importance and significance. The Republic of Nauru and the Republic of Kiribati remain formally invited to join as members, so that the MIF represents the entire Micronesian bloc.
Some of the outcomes from the leaders’ discussions included support for the creation of a Standing Gender Equality Committee within the MIF, and the declaration that September 13, 2019 is to be the first Micronesian-wide Environmental Cleanup Day, an activity to be orchestrated simultaneously on all Micronesian islands to promote and maintain a healthy environment.
Beyond the remarks and discussions amongst the leaders themselves, a significant component of the MIF is reporting on the work, and recommendations for future initiatives, conducted by the MIF’s various committees. These committees are comprised of individuals such as Ministers/Secretaries and their associated staff within the Governments that participate in the MIF, with examples such as the Regional Invasive Species Council (RISC), the Regional Health Committee, and the Micronesian Challenge Committee, among others.
For one example, the Regional Health Committee reported on significant achievements and improvements throughout the region, such as the implementation of new and expanded electronic health records, and expanded health workforce development opportunities and pipelines. The Regional Health Committee also recommended for endorsement two resolutions by MIF leadership—the first concerning equitable access to quality and comprehensive healthcare services for Pacific Island Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the second concerning U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands’ health department capacities and systems to effectively address the health security threat of antimicrobial resistance.
Citizens of the FSM and other islands in the Micronesian family are strongly encouraged to read through the Joint Communiqué, which can be found here: http://gov.fm/files/Joint%20Communiques/24th_MIF_Joint_Communique.pdf
After the official opening ceremony, each Head of State, Head of Government, and/or Head of Delegation provided their opening remarks. What follows is a mixture of these opening—and, on July 11th, closing—remarks, and relevant outcomes of the MIF.
The first and last to speak was President Panuelo, who emphasized amongst other topics the FSM’s initiatives to turn the Nation into “a global preserve or sanctuary,” and the need for genuine collaboration in the Micronesian bloc to tackle the threat of climate change.
President Panuelo also called for unity in action. “The issues we face are sufficiently real, sufficiently important, and sufficiently complex that they are true—and what’s true is necessarily not political,” President Panuelo said, recommending that that the 25th MIF—which he views as “the signature bloc for our sub-region [of] Micronesia”—be hosted by the FSM National Government.
His Excellency Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., President of the ROP—and graduate of Chuuk’s Xavier High School—spoke in large part on the recent entry of Okeanos and their Vaka Motu canoes into the ROP and the broader Micronesian region. “[The Okeanos vessel] sailed from New Zealand to Palau using twenty gallons of coconut oil,” President Remengesau said, noting the clear utility such a vessel provides in tackling climate change.
Representing Her Excellency Dr. Hilda C. Heine, President of the RMI, was the Honorable Amenta Matthew, Minister of the RMI’s Ministry of Culture & Internal Affairs and former resident of Chuuk State during her high school years. Minister Matthew spoke on several topics, but highlighted gender equality including its relationship to climate change. “[The Government of the RMI] is a strong supporter of gender equality, particularly in education and health…climate change, economic and social development, and human rights, are all cross-cutting in the context of gender equality.”
The leaders were presented information on this topic by the Honorable Molly Heikena, Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Culture & Internal Affairs, that may be shocking. “Studies have shown that 2/3 (66%) of [Pacific Island] women experience gender-based violence, and 60% of women have experienced violence from family or [romantic] partners,” Assistant Secretary Heikena said. “23.3% of the world’s parliaments are women, but in the Pacific the number is 6.9%.” In other words, while some may take notice that Guam has a female Governor, a female Speaker, and females comprising the majority of its legislative branch, the key takeaway is that it’s noticeable precisely because it is uncommon.
Minister Matthew noted that the proposal for a committee on gender equality is a “step in the right direction.” President Panuelo and all of the other leaders agreed, and a resolution to develop such a committee under the MIF was approved in the Joint Communiqué.
The Honorable Ralph DLG Torres, Governor of the CNMI, spoke next, and while he addressed several issues—such as the CNMI’s need to increase its labor force—most of his opening remarks focused on his appreciation for the Micronesian family’s outreach after Super Typhoon Yutu. “The CNMI was hit with the biggest typhoon in 85 years on U.S. soil…critical water and power distribution systems [were down]…leaving both [Saipan and Tinian] without power,” said Governor Torres. “And I want to go on the record today to express my, and the people of the CNMI’s, profound appreciation to each and every one of you…when you have over 3,000 power poles knocked down, no water, and no light, and you get news from your neighboring islands…where there are FSM and Palau contributions, and RMI and Yap, I mean the whole Micronesia—and you see every morning the flags being waved…it gives you hope, but more so the love of Micronesia. And so from the bottom of my heart I thank you.”
The Honorable Lou Leon Guerrero, Governor of Guam, spoke on numerous issues—from her Government’s recent executive order on developing a working group to develop and implement a Micronesia cruise liner to an executive order on establishing Guam’s aquaculture industry—but of perhaps most immediate resonance to the citizens of the FSM were her remarks on the environment and on FSM citizens living in Guam. “I look forward to working with [President Panuelo] very closely; we have a lot of FSM residents in Guam which we welcome wholeheartedly,” Governor Leon Guerrero said. “They are productive members of our community and I look forward to working with you on how we can provide opportunities to address [migration challenges].”
One of the outcomes of an Executive’s Breakfast Meeting on July 11th was, first, agreement that the non-government organization(NGO) We Are Oceania in the U.S. State of Hawaii, and the NGO the Micronesian Resource Center in Guam, provide essential services to migrants hailing from across the Micronesian region; and, second, that the member Governments of the MIF will work to ensure that these organizations collaborate with one another, and in particular the FSM National Government will direct its Consuls General to assist in developing this collaboration, including tying this collaboration with the Compact of Free Association CANN, of which the FSM National Government $25,000 annually to subsidize. More information can be found in the Joint Communiqué.
The Honorable Marcelo K. Peterson, Governor of the FSM’s State of Pohnpei, spoke next, and while his comments were brief he noted Pohnpei State’s continued dedication to regional collaboration and partnership in the spirit of promoting improved standards of living for all Micronesians. In particular, Governor Peterson noted that “We have important issues that lay ahead of us…such issues [include] infrastructure upgrades, and [addressing] crime.”
The Honorable Henry Falan, Governor of the FSM’s State of Yap, emphasized the need for action. “I motion against paralysis by analysis,” said Governor Falan, who suggested the importance of planning and the importance of thinking globally, acting locally, and using the most of limited time and resources to provide for citizens’ needs.
President Remengesau noted, in his closing remarks the next day, similar themes when he said “I have three things that I ask all of us to always keep in mind: one is follow-up, two is follow-up, and three is follow-up. I think with those three, we can certainly realize [our goals and vision for the future.]”
The Honorable Carson K. Sigrah, Governor of the FSM’s State of Kosrae, was relatively brief in his opening and closing remarks—but profound in both of them. In the former, the Governor noted that “for the first time in three years”, the State of Kosrae was able to pay its MIF dues. (Each Government pays $15,000 annually for MIF membership, which assists the Secretariat in organizing and implementing the MIF).
However, in Governor Sigrah’s closing remarks, he said “I came to this meeting…not really knowing what transpired in the last MIF, and I was intending to criticize the works of the committees [thinking] that nothing has been done. But when I heard the reports and the updates…I was really impressed. I apologize…and I thank very much the committees for the hard work you’ve done.” Governor Sigrah’s remarks were echoed by many of the attendees new to the MIF.
The final opening speaker, and the first of the closing speakers, was the Honorable Johnson S. Elimo, Governor of the FSM’s State of Chuuk and Chairman of the 24th MIF. “Our resolve as Micronesian people should never be undermined at any time…we are strong, and we are resilient,” said Governor Elimo. “We must respect the wishes of our people first and foremost, and as leaders we must respect and carry out those wishes to the best of our abilities anywhere, anytime.”
“As your host, I especially thank all you esteemed Micronesian leaders for making Chuuk your home away from home; thank you and kinisou chapur,” Governor Elimo said.
On the evening of July 11th, immediately prior to the signing of the Joint Communiqué, both the Honorable Mark Mailo—President of Chuuk State’s Senate—and President Panuelo gave remarks.
“I would hope that the MIF will [evolve] in a different way than what we expect: that action speaks louder than words,” President Mailo said.
“I want to recognize the gentleman who arrived today: Mr. Bernard Grundler, Chief Secretary of Nauru Public Service within the Republic of Nauru,” said President Panuelo. “On our behalf, we look forward to welcoming you to the capital of the FSM and welcoming you and, we hope, [the Republic of] Kiribati in joining our MIF family.”