H.E. MR. JOSEPH J. URUSEMAL
THE FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
AT HIS INAUGURATION TO THE
OFFICE OF PRESIDENT
Palikir, July 14, 2003
Check Against Delivery
Thank you Master of Ceremony. Please allow me at the very outset to pay my personal respect and special recognition to our traditional leaders, especially those from our host State of Pohnpei, as well as those from Chuuk, Kosrae and Yap who have graced this occasion by their presence here today. I also wish to extend the same to those who are listening to this broadcast throughout the Federation. Thank you for your presence, and thank you for allowing me to make my remarks.
[Speaker Christian and Members of the 13th FSM Congress, Chief Justice Amaraich and Members of the Judiciary, Former Presidents (those present) Former Vice President (those present), Governor David, Governor Walter, Governor Sigrah and Governor Ruech˛, Speakers and Members of State Legislatures, Other State and Local Government Leaders,]
May I also welcome and pay special recognition to our Micronesian brothers - President Remengesau Jr. of Palau, Minister Silk of the Marshall Islands, Governor Camacho of Guam, Lt. Governor Benevente of the CNMI, and members of your respective delegations.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, Members of the Clergy, and My fellow citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia.
To appear before you today as the sixth President of the Federated States of Micronesia is surely the greatest honor I will ever attain. But, while it is right for me to express personal gratitude and humility at joining the ranks of my distinguished predecessors, I want you to know that this address is really an address by the entire Administration that will be serving you for the next four years. Vice President Killion and I will be leading that Administration, and we will certainly strive to lead it well, but to the extent that the nation makes progress during the next four years, it will be largely due to the day-to-day efforts of our entire Executive Branch, working together with the Congress, the Judiciary, and the entire National Government in close collaboration with each of our four States. It should be an effort by us all. No one should be left out, from a farmer in a remote village in Kosrae to a teacher in Yap, they are just as important to that effort as I am standing here before you today. With Vice President Killion and I at the helm, I wish to reiterate our gratitude for the honor bestowed upon us to lead that effort and to serve you for the next four years.
Since assuming the awesome tasks of the Office of the President I realize that I stand to learn much from the proud history of our Nation's founders and former leaders. I will never ignore their efforts or their accomplishments; however, from this day on, the greatest measure of my devotion must always be to the future of our nation, and what we must do, working together, to secure a prosperous future.
Our present circumstances are good, reflecting so much progress since our Constitutional birth in 1979. But the present takes care of itself, and there is little we can do to improve it. In order to keep moving forward we must have, and keep, and believe in a common vision for our future. And then we must make it our goal, even our obsession, every day that passes, to work together to make that vision a reality. We are creating the future.
My predecessor, President Leo A. Falcam, as well as those before him, correctly dedicated themselves to the unity of our Nation by stressing the importance of working together with a sense of pride, inspired by our traditional cultures and values. This was, and remains a worthy agenda, and we must continue the work by building on that foundation as productively as we possibly can.
We, who have grown up in the emerging Micronesia political system, have typically placed a lot of reliance on words - many words - flowery words - strung together to dignify almost any occasion. In my experience it has sometimes seemed that it mattered less what we did than how we talked about it - less whether a promise was made good than how wonderfully it was originally spoken.
Those of you, who do not yet know me well, will come to know that I prefer and I am inclined toward fewer words, simply put, words as tools, rather than words as art. I appreciate focusing more on actions, and my fellow citizens, the time has come when actions, not words, must be our national focus.
I'm sure you all know that our Nation stands at a crossroad that will go down in our children's history books. That crossroad is represented on the surface by the transition from the first Compact period into the next twenty years, under very different new arrangements and obligations. But the crossroad is not really about old Compact vs. new Compact. It is about moving past our success in building a stable political structure, and now devoting ourselves with just as much vigor and determination to the attainment of our economic stability and security. This goal poses different, and some might say, even harder challenges due to our remote location, small islands and population, and limited natural resources. We must, however, not be discouraged by these challenges; rather, we must recognize that the key to overcoming these challenges lies not in what we say, but in what we do.
I do want to say a few words about the new Compact arrangements, because I know that interest is high and many have concerns. One of my first acts as President was to authorize our Government's signing of the Compact amendments, and you should know why I made that decision.
To begin with, I have had the privilege of participating in the long and sometimes difficult negotiations with the United States, as Vice Chairman of our Joint Committee on Compact Economic Negotiations or JCN. From the perspective of that position, I knew full well that the final document, like most negotiated outcomes, falls short in some respects of what we had hoped to achieve. In fact, even as I speak, a high-level team of FSM Government officials is in Washington, testifying before the US Congress in an effort to seek certain improvements in the negotiated text and to secure final passage through the US Congress.
But, regardless of the need for such an effort, I authorized signing of the document because, even without further improvement under these circumstances, the package negotiated offers vital funding and program assistance that the FSM cannot obtain from any other source to complement our limited local sources. While our economy will undergo some initial strains, the funding, properly and efficiently managed - and I stress that - properly and efficiently managed, will enable us to move forward. Naturally, we must continue to be diligent in seeking other sources of assistance as well.
Another important factor in my decision was that the agreement provides roughly $20 million of US assistance a year for a trust fund that, in twenty years' time, will bring an end to our dependence on high levels of annual grant funding from the United States. The dream of economic self-sufficiency and security now can become reality for our children and grandchildren. This is an enormous benefit, unprecedented in size anywhere. And for their cooperation in accepting the Trust Fund approach, which was at the very core of our proposed economic package, we shall be ever grateful to the United States.
Finally, I authorized signing because, after hard negotiations in which we obtained many concessions, the new grant structures and procedures, together with increased reporting and accountability requirements, will actually work to our nation's benefit by improving our efficiency standards in managing Compact funds. In my view, we owe it to the United States government and to the American taxpayers to report responsibly on how we spend their hard-earned money. And we owe it to ourselves in view of the lessons learned during the first Compact that we must strengthen our capabilities to meet reporting and accountability requirements.
I am fully aware of the current discussions and exchanges of views in the media and other public venues on the issue of our nation's sovereignty being compromised by these new stringent requirements and provisions. I must say the debates have been useful and constructive, as they have not only enriched the discussions, but have raised public awareness of these issues. Let me assure you, our nation's sovereignty is not threatened by the amendments to the Compact. Our special relationship continues as a willing partnership between two sovereign nations. I am convinced that what would, in fact, threaten our sovereignty, as well as our unity, at this stage of our economic development, would be to walk away from a package with twenty years of Compact assistance and a Trust Fund designed to support future generations of Micronesians.
In response to concerns raised by the United States, a separate but parallel and bi-lateral negotiation took place over the Compact immigration provisions. This was perhaps the most difficult and contentious subject of all, not only because immigration is one of the pillars of our whole Compact relationship, but because in the wake of the September 11th tragedy, some US officials would have been satisfied to see the existing privileges of Micronesians cut back. In the interests of time, let me just say that at the end of the discussion, the only changes in the circumstances of Micronesians going to, residing in and coming from the United States are that a passport now will be required, and the I-94 form will now also be the work authorization document with no further need for the Employment Authorization Document. Beyond these things, nothing in the new provisions goes beyond the authority that the United States always asserted was in the original Compact.
Without question, both sides brought substantial interests to the table, and both sides made concessions and accommodations to preserve and extend our mutually beneficial Compact relationship. We are partners with the Untied States in one of the most amazing and unique relationships in the modern affairs of nations. We must continue this spirit of partnership under the amended Compact. And I urge each of the four State Legislatures and the FSM Congress, to give due favorable consideration to the package of Compact amendments at the earliest opportunity.
Let me now turn to the progress of the FSM society and our economy, making the best use of all the assistance together with our own revenues, and see how we need to mobilize our actions to produce growth and prosperity for our children and our children's children.
Our island communities have certainly progressed over the past two decades. Our basic infrastructure including roads, airports, power, water and communications, our public buildings and our private housing, all have been brought up to a standard above that of most developing countries, though, I must say, we must strive for further improvements.
One of the main focus of this Administration will be on what I call our social infrastructure, and that is appropriately also to be a main emphasis of Compact funding. I refer to Health and Education sectors.
While we have made modest improvements over the years in the delivery of health services we have not achieved a record of steady and sustainable progress. Our hospitals and clinics are good in some cases, less good in others. We continue to rely too heavily on off-island medical referrals, to a degree that this Nation simply cannot afford and at the expense of more beneficial investments in preventive and primary health services. I intend to see that we do better for the simple reason that our citizens deserve nothing less.
To that end, and with the intention of ensuring access to quality health care for every person in the nation, I pledge my support for innovative approaches to providing and addressing health care that will include a comprehensive package of preventive health care. A community-based preventive health care system should command our attention and our resources, not simply our words. We should focus our efforts on preventive health to avoid expensive treatments later. This may mean a change from the business-as-usual way of providing health care to a new approach that is truly a social partnership between individuals, providers, employers, governments, and the community. Our administration will be working closely with the States as well as seeking the support of our donor partners, many of whom are here with us, to ensure the availability of essential medicines and supplies, and the appropriate technology that our medical personnel need to perform their jobs as health care providers.
Appropriate departments and agencies of the National Government will be tasked to ensure that all prospective students interested in medicine, dentistry, nursing, and other highly needed fields are not sidelined but supported to fulfill their dreams of working in the medical profession. Likewise, to our young men and women here today, at home and abroad, I urge you to consider the medical profession, a noble and rewarding profession and a higher calling in its own right. In doing so, you are a living testimony of lifetime commitment to your family, your island, and your Nation.
In respect to education, and looking at primary and secondary levels in our public schools, the record is also one of mixed results. I know that we have situations in individual schools that would be models anywhere. But I also know that we are in dire need of better school facilities, textbooks, better-trained teachers, and on and on.
We acknowledge with much appreciation the invaluable contribution that the private schools have made to our nation, and the critical role they play in our local island communities. While their records of accomplishments and excellence have now become a matter of course, taken for granted, our private schools have also become the envy of many schools and institutions in our region, and we commend the administrators, principals, teachers, and staff for their efforts.
We also note and acknowledge our only post-secondary institution - the College of Micronesia/FSM - and the job it is doing. As the only national institution of higher learning, it is also a source of national pride, a training ground and an investment for future leaders of the nation.
Likewise, we are proud of all our students who have gone to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and elsewhere to earn college degrees. We appreciate very much the assistance of our development partners and allies in the sector of human resource development of our nation. We encourage our students to achieve their goals and we need to provide them opportunities at home to come back to build a better nation. Too many of our children are being sidelined to a life of under-achievement, at just the time when we are being integrated more and more into the global society. This, we cannot allow to continue.
If I am going to speak with honesty about moving our communities toward a better tomorrow that includes good governance, a vibrant private sector, and a better quality of life for all the people, then I must dedicate a large part of our Administration's effort to Education. I know that the frontline responsibility in this area is at the State level, but I will seek ways in which your National Government can be a more effective partner with the State Governments in this crucial endeavor. I, too, subscribe to the proposition that no child should be sidelined or left behind, and I emphasize again the importance of us all working closely together in this regard.
When I speak of health and education of our nation, our youths today are an equally important issue that cannot be ignored. Our young people are a valuable resource of our nation and they, too, have a critical role to play in our island communities. I often hear people say, "our youth is our future". While that is so true, I believe our youth have a role to play now in our nation-building efforts. To the youths of our nation, regardless of what job or occupation you have now, what schools you are in, whatever you do in the communities, I want you to know that you are an important citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, an important member of your community, contributing in your own way to the betterment of our islands and our people. An old rallying cry, I would like to propose as a challenge for the youths of today for them not to forget, but to keep it to their hearts as a constant reminder of their important role as members of our communities that "everyday in some ways I will make my island better."
I do not know how many of you have been following the recently concluded South Pacific Games in Fiji. I, for one, was overwhelmed with joy and excitement to hear of the superb performance and the medals - 3 Golds, 7 Silvers, 3 Bronze - that our Team FSM brought back home. Our youths are not only a valuable resource of our nation, they are also indeed the pride of the nation. I congratulate and thank all the athletes, the coaches and trainers, our sports administrators and coordinators, and all those, who have in one way or another, supported and contributed to the great success of our Team FSM at the South Pacific Games in Fiji. Welcome home.
I am aware and appreciative of the programs and activities that the States have in place for our youths. While these programs and activities may vary in all the states depending on the different approaches employed according to the specific needs of each state, I would like to underscore the need for a more proactive and more focused approach to the needs of our youths that must include all stakeholders - the governments at all levels, traditional and community leaders, civil societies, churches, parents, and of course the youths themselves.
In order to promote good governance for all of our people we must strengthen transparency and accountability in government operations. We must do this not only because of amendments to the Compact but also because of the lessons we have learned. And we must strive to have all of our governments-national, state and local-achieve higher standards. At this time, all of our governments have experienced difficult challenges. With an eye toward improving the situation for all, this Administration will place a special focus, at the request of that state's leadership, on Chuuk State's financial challenges. They face serious problems that will require an extended period of fiscal discipline and sacrifice, particularly for the leaders and people of Chuuk.
This Administration, taking advantage of those Chuukese working at the National Government, will place a close focus on that State. For the past few years we as a nation have hoped that these problems would correct themselves through time and given enough time. Unfortunately they have not. Half of our population, and half of our best and brightest are now imperiled. And, to be perfectly frank, our national unity is increasingly at stake. Some of my best friends and closest advisors are from Chuuk, and it pains me greatly to see this happening to their proud islands because I do know without any doubts that Chuuk has great potentials, and that it can provide for its own people.
To start, the national government must play a role in restoring fiscal responsibility. This is at the core of the problems besetting the state, and as a result, the nation. The State's leaders have recently shown their resolve and have begun to take ownership and responsibility for the parts of their problems that stem from fiscal mismanagement and poor policies. Where misfortune, natural disaster, or insufficient technical and financial support have played a role, that is where we as a nation must mobilize to respond helpfully and responsibly.
To help Chuuk help itself is a very difficult but necessary task. And no doubt it will be a thankless task. But our first effort will be to reach out and ask the State to take the first step-after which we will walk and work together to show our full commitment to bringing about a brighter future for the Chuukese people and all the citizens of the FSM. I believe by helping one state in a time of need we prove ourselves capable to fulfill the vision of our nation's founders.
Now I would like to spend a little time on a few other areas that speak to our actions in the days, months and years ahead. Our Administration will place special emphasis on promoting responsible private sector development and on sustaining our precious environment.
Ever since day one of our Constitutional Government, people have been talking about the critical role of private sector development. In the early years, it was assumed that all it would take was the injection of a little money into the economy. Too often there was a reliance on government-run enterprises with the assumption that profits would reduce the need for taxes or that those enterprises would soon step aside to make way for Micronesian businesses to carry on. It is clear to me and, I believe, to the majority of our leaders that our experiment in public enterprise development in the commercial sector has failed. We had the right motives, but the wrong approach. During this Administration I will work with Congress to critically examine with a view to removing once and for all the National Government from direct involvement in commercial endeavors. This will entail some hard decisions as many dedicated individuals have tried their best to make some of these operations work. But in this area the National Government will lead by getting out of the way. Too many resources are tied up with too little return-and often at the cost of delaying true private sector development. By taking the lead we will unravel some of the complicated ownership arrangements that have also made it difficult for the states to rationalize their long-stagnant public enterprise investments. Our Administration will also support the states in their attempts to follow the same path at the pace they deem best suited to their specific situations.
While the private sector as a whole has grown over the past two decades at a rate that exceeds the average economic growth rate, there is a pressing need for a revitalization of economic activity, led by the private sector. The structure of our amended Compact dictates that an increasing share of our national income and investment is generated from private sources. There is no alternative if we want to achieve our aspirations for sustainable livelihoods and increasing prosperity for all Micronesians.
We have long talked of attracting foreign investment on a scale sufficient to kick-start the economy to the benefit of all. But we often have failed to fully realize that foreign investment capital has no shortage of places to go. We have not been truly competitive-perhaps out of an understandable sense of caution and protectiveness-but we have generally not been outreaching even to the legitimate opportunities that have come along, while in some cases we have embraced pie-in-the-sky deals that failed. We need to be alert for opportunities that have logical ties to our unique resources and circumstances, especially as we become more and more integrated with the global information network.
The whole question of the government's role in private sector development is a difficult one, but it is too important for us to ignore. The appropriate departments and agencies of the National Government will work closely with the four states to ensure that their needs for technical assistance and policy reforms are addressed professionally and beneficially.
In speaking of issues critical to the Nation, I must not fail to include the environment. We must continue to press for immediate action to address the issue of accelerated sea-level rise resulting from climate change. Throughout our islands, we continue to experience this first-hand, especially for our low-lying islands. For them, global warming is no longer an abstract scientific principle - it is a clear and present danger to the natural environment that Micronesians have inhabited for thousands of years, and one that threatens our homes, our lands, and our livelihoods. My greatest fear is that we are rapidly running out of time to address this problem in a meaningful fashion.
While our emissions of warming gases are small in comparison to the rest of the world, we must not shirk our responsibility and our commitment to face this danger. As we join the alliance of small island states calling for prompt international action to combat the problem, we must be at the forefront of those tasking concrete measures to reduce emissions. In this regard, one of the priorities of this Administration will be to look at possibilities for sustainable sources of energy. This will serve not only to make our air, land, and water cleaner, but this will also contribute to an economically sustainable future for our children.
Guided by the general principles as enshrined in our Constitution, I am pleased to say that the FSM is a party to several conventions on human rights, actively and constructively engaged in discussions at the regional and international level on issues of critical importance to the nation. We take our international obligations very seriously, and we are proud of our modest contribution to international initiatives, as evidenced by the presence of our young men and women in the coalition of the willing in the Middle East. They have our full support and we salute them for their courage, their determination, and their sacrifice.
On issues more closer to home, we will continue the legacy of past administrations in working very closely with our Micronesian brothers and friends on important issues affecting our island communities. Given our close historical ties, family and blood relations, and as simply Micronesian islanders, we do not only need each other, we belong to one another.
To state these facts before you today is to do little more than lend support to obvious truths. My fellow citizens, the time has come for deeds above and beyond the words. This Administration pledges to undertake an ambitious and timely agenda to address our nation's most pressing concerns. In so doing, many of you may disagree with some of our choices along the way. I hope you will make this disagreement known, for this is at the heart of our proud democracy. But I pledge to you today that the actions of our Administration will be undertaken with one goal and one goal only in mind - to make our nation a better place for all our people, in all our states, for all time.
Succeeding as a nation will require putting aside some of our immediate differences and thinking beyond our priorities at the state and local levels. We must all work together to shore up our national government. This is the pitch that holds our ship of state together. We must not allow it to come apart. This will not be easy. Thousands of years of proud civilizations have shaped our individual cultural identities and obviously served us well. However, the realities of the modern world dictate that we must maintain our united identity if we are to thrive in our region and the world.
We from the four states are family. A goal of this administration is to restore a sense of national pride that may have waned somewhat since independence. There is a saying in Chuuk that, translated into our common language, stresses the importance of "Kindness, Honesty and Hard Work." What better common standard could we have as a Nation? With that as our banner, I say we are all Chuukese - all Pohnpeian - all Kosraean - and all Yapese.
The honor you have bestowed upon Vice President and myself carries with it an enormous responsibility. I know, that working together and guided by the same ideals, we can transform our nation into something of which we can be truly proud - one that will serve as a model throughout the region and beyond - a nation where traditional beliefs meld with modern techniques to everyone's advantage. This is our vision for our nation, our people, for the next four years. You have our pledge to undertake only those policies necessary toward this end.
I hope to make the hallmark of this administration "progress through deeds, not words." My fellow citizens, you will be the ultimate judge of our performance, and I hope that you will be forthright in your assessment and work with me to steer the proper course during the next four years.
I will be remiss to conclude without expressing our profound thanks and appreciation to the leaders and people of Pohnpei. As the host and capital of our Nation, I must acknowledge the tremendous support you have extended to the National Government. Your support is vital to our nation-building efforts, and is well appreciated by us all. I can only hope that the presence of our National Government here in Palikir has, in some small way, contributed to the betterment of Pohnpei, our capital, our island, and our home.
Thank you and May God bless the Federated States of Micronesia.