Government of the Federated States of Micronesia

Address by

His Excellency
Mr. Leo A. Falcam

On the Occassion of His Inauguration as Fifth President of the Federated States of Micronesia

Palikir, Pohnpei, July 21, 1999

Check Against Delivery

My fellow citizens:

You have all heard political speeches before, and some of them mine. They serve legitimate purposes, and they are a part of our life. But if you will forgive me I would like to make this address more of a personal statement - a sharing of my observations about our young Nation's past and present, and my hopes for its future. You deserve nothing less from me in this, my first Presidential address to the citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia.

It is more than just a formality when I say that I stand before you today, humble and grateful for the opportunity you have given me to serve you as your President. I am also aware of the heavy weight of responsibility placed upon me. I know that I must remain faithful to the vision of this Nation that inspired all the former Presidents, as well as all our leaders in Government and our traditional leaders, past and present, to rise to the monumental challenges of launching a new Nation at a time of unprecedented global change.

As we look around us now, we can be justifiably proud of a wide range of accomplishments that have brought us to a point where we, the citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, are truly among the most fortunate people on Earth. In contrast to many other developing countries, ours is a land of increasing prosperity. We are blessed with a beautiful and bountiful homeland with rich cultural traditions. Ours is an orderly society, dedicated to the principles of Democracy. Ours is a free and peaceful society, one in which we are secure in our property and in the enjoyment of basic human rights.

It is in the nature of all human beings to take good things for granted and to focus on our discontent with those things that need improvement. But recent and ongoing events elsewhere in the World should make us ever mindful of just how fortunate we are. The prospect of any among us being driven from our homes by despotic overlords, to endure torture and death, cold and hunger, relying on the mercy of strangers for our very lives, is now for us unthinkable. But our parents and grandparents had to endure much of the same suffering. Yes, we who are here today have much to be thankful for.

We stand on the threshold of a new Millennium - a unique point in the history of all Mankind. What better and more meaningful time could there be to renew our resolve - for each of us to dedicate himself and herself to our unity of purpose to continue building on the progress of the past, and to pledge to ourselves that in doing so, as individual citizens of this developing island nation we must look beyond the enjoyment of our own lives. My fellow citizens, as we pass through this doorway in time that we are uniquely privileged to experience, we must also ask ourselves, "What must we do - all of us - leaders, yes, but more importantly, individual citizens - to pass on to future generations a better homeland, and a better world?"

As I stand before you, I see the faces of the children here. And while they may not be in position to criticize our actions or inactions, it is these children to whom we bear the heaviest responsibility of all. My generation has launched our new Nation, and already we have adjusted our lives to the enjoyment of modern conveniences and a level of prosperity not known before. But unless we continue to work together within our democratic Constitutional framework to find better ways of keeping our Nation on the right path of enduring prosperity and sustainable development, we could fail in our most important duty of all - our duty to the children of the future. In years to come, we will be judged by our children on how we dealt with the collected experience of twenty years of self-government, and used that experience to prepare for a better future. Meeting these challenges will require that we all work together even more effectively than we have done up to now, with pride, and in a spirit of mutual self-confidence.

As a nation made up of peoples who not long ago made such momentous choices for our future it is only natural to recall, even yet, the pros and cons of those decisions, and even to feel occasional doubts about our collective wisdom. Without losing that understanding, we must nevertheless keep fixed in our minds the strong imperatives that brought us into union with one another.

One of the strongest of those is the imperative of history. Today, our ocean, the Pacific, is no longer a refuge within which island peoples can exist simply, secure in our remoteness. In order to live fulfilling lives within the world now at our doorstep and to build a secure future, we must move rapidly to develop our islands, to make use of our resources, to educate our children, to cooperate with our neighbors and to pursue contacts elsewhere in the world consistent with our beliefs, ideals and our own cultural values.

The great wisdom of our founding fathers has been to bestow upon us, and those who will come after us, a concept of unity expressed in this way in the Preamble to our Constitution: "we affirm our common wish to live together in peace and harmony, to preserve the heritage of the past, and to protect the promise of the future." If we can be faithful to that undertaking, with proper stewardship, we will have not only the means to survive, but to advance and prosper to a far greater extent together, than we could achieve separately.

I would like to propose to you a rallying cry for our efforts in years to come, as we cross this historic threshold - something to put up on posters in our villages and in our schools. Something to understand as being more important than politics. That rallying cry is, "Into the New Millennium, Working Together." As I have just been saying, we take pride in our Nation's unity. I too, am proud of it and want with all my heart to preserve it. But in addressing the immediate needs of our Nation, our unity needs to find practical application. Unity must be seen by individual FSM citizens as something more than a principle we hear about in speeches and study in school. We need to think of it in a way that we can all carry with us as we go through our daily lives - in a way that actually affects the lives of our families and the performance of our jobs. And so, I suggest today that we think of unity not just in the political sense, but as working together. These two words we all have heard, in many situations. They provide empowerment to achieve greater goals. I believe that if this principle becomes the battle cry, not just of this new Administration but for our society as a whole, and not just on this day but into the future, we cannot fail. It is my pledge to you as your President to provide the effective leadership that will be required in order to coordinate all our efforts as we proceed, "Into the New Millennium, Working Together."

As President, my first priority will be to establish an Administration which gains and holds the confidence of the people, of the Congress, and of the State Governments - an Administration which will work constructively and in close cooperation with all branches of government at every level within the FSM. In short, my Administration will undertake to be a positive force which helps to bind our Nation together by doing its job actively and well, while respecting the prerogatives of others. You have every right to expect nothing less from your National government. But an equal and even more important part of the burden must be carried by you, the citizens, in building the consensus as to our preferred future, in guiding and instructing your government leaders, and in advancing the private sector of our society at all levels.

I do not suggest to you that, in a brief span of four years, we can achieve all that we set out to do. We can, however, within that time, further define our vision through such processes as the economic summits, and keep the Nation on a sure course. We have the tools to accomplish the task.

First, we are blessed with National and State Constitutions which provide our basic governmental structure. Over a period of almost twenty years now, we have gained confidence in our system of government. Second, we possess a wealth of seasoned leadership at all levels and in all branches of government, as well as our traditional leaders, united by a common dedication to the betterment of the lives of our people. Their diversity of experience and views is one of our strengths, so long as we understand the nature of a participative democracy in which the airing of different opinions is a necessary and healthy aspect of life within a united society. Thomas Jefferson, as the President of a very young United States, once said to a group of leaders who had become discouraged by divisive debates, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle." Keeping that wise observation in mind, we in this young Nation can explore our differences in the democratic spirit enshrined in our Constitution, and emerge far stronger from the process.

Third, we are blessed with a rich human resource, which grows ever more capable of participating in, and contributing significantly to, the building of this Nation. The importance of this resource cannot be overstated. Leadership alone can never bring us to the attainment of our goals. It is the people who must chart our course and carry out the multitude of never-ending tasks as we move along the path of our development. My pride and confidence in you, the people of this Nation is boundless, and creates in me a sense of great optimism for our future.

Finally, we also possess an indispensable tool in the form of material resources to apply toward our development. In the early years, through our relationship of Free Association with the United States we have been assured of needed financial and other resources which have been beyond our ability to generate internally. Without infringing on our sovereignty, or our ability to govern ourselves and to determine our future, we freely chose to accept the opportunity of association with that great nation. Meanwhile, we have gradually been building both our own resource base and a wide variety of other sources of bilateral and multilateral assistance.

Our partnership with the United States through the Compact is not, however, about to expire. Let me emphasize that. While some important provisions are to be renegotiated, the Compact of Free Association has no expiration date. Since this partnership with the United States will be continuing in the coming years, the United States Government is preparing to negotiate future assistance to us. But we have been a self-governing people since 1979, even some years before the Trusteeship was formally terminated. Therefore, it remains up to us to define our own concept of a preferred future. That opportunity is one of the most important challenges facing my Administration, and I pledge to you, on behalf of all the leadership of this Nation, that we will continue to build on the efforts already well underway to ensure a mutually beneficial association with the United States for many years to come.

But the Compact is not just about assistance. The long term success of our association with the United States depends on this nation's development toward greater self-sufficiency. While we will continue for some time to require outside assistance, that assistance alone will not lead us to self-sufficiency. A former United States Ambassador to the United Nations has stated wisely that it is not for the United States to tell the Micronesians how we should develop. That can only be decided by ourselves.

Thus, our challenge is to shape our own future, not simply to go down a path laid out by others. It is fair to say that in the past, building on early experiences, we in the FSM have tended primarily to react to the initiatives of others. Now and henceforth, we must take hold of our own initiatives. We must create history. We must create events. We must not merely react to events around us.

It is misleading when we hear people speak of "developed" and "developing" countries, as though some have made it, and the rest are coming along after the same goal. A Spanish poet once wrote, "Traveler, there is no road; you make the road by walking." Development is not a defined condition. It is not a destination, but an unfolding path along which the traveler must also be a pathfinder. And only we ourselves, working together, will make our path.

This Nation has made a good start. It was not easy, starting in 1979, with an untested Constitution and a new structure of National and State governments, and with infrastructure far below present standards. It cannot be denied that we made many mistakes, some of them costly. But several years ago, the people of this Nation began to sharpen the focus of our development effort through the mechanisms of State and National economic summits in which there was broad participation by both the government and private sectors. That series of meetings started a process of self-evaluation and planning that is ongoing, and is intended to remain subject to constant updating. While the process is aided by internationally qualified experts, it relies far more on the expressions of your hopes and ambitions for our future, both as you see it now, and as you come to see it in the years ahead. I hope that you will all keep this in mind as we convene future economic summits.

Since you have made me your President, you should be made aware of my own views for the Nation's future. First, you are probably aware of the priority I have always placed on respect for our culture and the maintenance of its place in our lives and in our future. No matter what stage of economic development we might someday reach, and no matter how strong our ties with the outside world might become, we are and will remain Micronesians - not Americans, not Europeans, not Asians.

Especially since our numbers are relatively small in global terms, our unique cultural identity is one of our most precious assets. As the global society becomes a greater and greater part of our lives, were we to allow ourselves merely to imitate the values and ways of Western society, some of us might become rich in the conveniences of life, but we as Micronesian people would have lost the proud spirit that has bound us together for centuries. As President, I do not intend to let that happen. I often think that we may already have let too much slip away.

In speaking of our unique cultural identity, it is well to pause for a moment and focus on its meaning. What is culture? Is it the contents of a museum, to be visited and viewed with nostalgia and curiosity? No, museums have their place, because the objects of our historic past are evidence of our heritage, but ours must remain a living culture. It lies in the unique ways that we relate to each other. It lies in our family structures, and in the customary ways of decision-making and settling disagreements. It lies in our languages, our legends and our songs. It lies in the things we celebrate and the things we mourn. Perhaps most of all, it lies in our own unique values. We value our land. It is scarce and precious. We value our ocean. It sustains and protects us, and binds us together. We value the quiet enjoyment of our lives. For us, the "island way" is and should remain the best way. That is culture - our culture.

I hope that none of our visitors present take these comments to mean that I feel this country should hold itself aloof in any way, or be resistant to our growing immersion in the global community. Quite the contrary, as I observed earlier, isolation is no longer something to be desired in this world. But as we move ahead in the coming years, we must not leave behind the characteristics of our national identity. We must remain forever Micronesians.

The second building block of the platform on which I stand is that we must, as a common society, pool our considerable tangible and also intellectual resources in order to "leverage," as the investment people say, the collective benefits of our efforts. Let me hasten to say that in making this statement I have no intention of taking away from the basic concept of our Constitution, under which the bulk of decision-making that affects our daily lives is reserved to the States. What I mean to say is that I would like to see your national government become more effective in serving the States. We in Palikir should not be a "fifth wheel" of government, operating in some environment disconnected from the States, passing down what seems to be good advice and hoping that all goes well. We must find a way to be better than that, without overstepping the rightful Constitutional limitations.

I believe that we at the national level of the FSM Government must find ways to be more effective both in directly supporting State government initiatives, and also in promoting the development of greater and more productive interstate relations. It is not our role at the National level to dictate, but it surely is our role to provide the most effective conduit for your relations with the outside world, and also to provide the leadership to maximize these benefits we expect to obtain through our common working relationship.

Today I say to you that unity alone as a schoolbook concept is not enough. It must mean, on the streets, everyday, to each and every one of us, "working together." And your national government must be not only a distant cousin to the team - it must be a welcome and needed coordinator - both a resource and a leader, within the bounds of its properly limited capacity.

In that regard, it occurrs to me that there must be many circumstances where our citizens would be more than willing to volunteer some time to serve the community, if some initiative could be formed to encourage and coordinate them. I know that this is already occurring in some communities, but I feel that your National Government could facilitate even broader volunteer activities. And so, today I promise that an early task of my Administration will be to form an effective mechanism to help our communities promote volunteer services. This is no substitute for governmental responsibility, but I know that we are an energetic and capable people, and where government resources may be scarce, this may be one important way that the concept of working together could find valuable expression.

The basic principles I have referred to that will guide my Administration would not be complete without my mentioning our relations with the world that is no longer the "outside" world. This is the one major area that is reserved by our Constitution to the National government, but again, I must assure you that my Administration will view itself as a Trustee for State interests in this area, not as an independent operator.

The careful, constructive development of this Nation's place within the international community has been one of the great success stories in which all previous administrations have played major parts. As a result, today we maintain active relations with fifty countries, and memberships in many international organizations including the United Nations. This has not been done for the sake of prestige. An English diplomat once described diplomacy as "social banking." It is "building up credit and confidence for your country, to be used when you really need it to achieve your objectives." Simply put, it is a give-and-take world out there, and we must be willing to give within the bounds of our capacity, if we hope to receive according to our needs. So, when you hear someone ask why the FSM is engaging in some international relationship that may not look as though it brings us immediate material benefits, rest assured that your government is doing so with your long-term best interests in mind.

To illustrate my point, each one of the international relationships we have entered into so far has been chosen by your government because it offers some short or long term benefit to our development, directly or indirectly. Obviously, I start by mentioning our closest associate and partner under the Compact, the United States, whose generosity and support are well-known to all of us. Then, I would recognize the bilateral donor-partners in the region, who have been and continue to be generous to us even in the midst of their own economic hardships. Next, I would turn to our multilateral relationships within the subregion, through such mechanisms as the Council of Micronesian Chief Executives. More broadly, in the greater region of the Pacific Islands, we are active both bilaterally, and also multilaterally in organizations such as the South Pacific Forum, where the particular common interests we share with all of our Pacific brothers and sisters find expression on the broader international stage. It has been our privilege to serve as Chair of the Forum twice since we joined, including at the present time.

Even on a global scale, within the United Nations community we work closely as a member of an alliance of 42 small island developing states located all over the world who share many common problems. This is the group called, "AOSIS," the Alliance of Small Island States. As a small, remote island country we might go unnoticed in the greater international discussions - but as one of a bloc of forty-two island countries, acting together, we have already made big impacts in negotiations with larger powers on subjects like climate change and sustainable development, so critical to our very existence.

I strongly endorse our present international position, and intend during my term to work with the Congress to enlarge our capacity to bring home the benefits of these relationships - to continue to build upon them as times dictate, and to apply them toward achieving the goals that we ourselves identify for this Nation.

And so, my fellow citizens, I have spoken of what I believe are the three most critical areas on which we as a nation must concentrate over the next four years - the recognition and protection of our cultural values, building our economy with a true determination to work together, and a strong commitment to effective international relations. You may rest assured that during these four years your President and my entire Administration will be mindful of these elements in every task that we undertake. You may also rest assured that we in this Administration will be working hard together to serve you, as we all work together to advance the interests of our society. With God's blessing and support we can be successful in this great enterprise, and together we can create a period of continued economic growth in the Federated States of Micronesia toward the right balance of self-reliance in an increasingly interdependent world.

I know in my heart and mind that this mission is possible, and that if we all live up to our individual responsibilities, our achievements together over the next four years will become a fitting legacy for our children and future generations. I am honored to be your servant, but I am also challenged to be your leader. I am determined to meet that challenge, and likewise, I call upon your own determination to join with me in working together, into the New Millennium.