FSM Congress News, June 5, 2003
PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Congress): June 5, 2003 - Congress got busier than usual the last week of May to June and adjourned sine-die on June 4. It passed on 2nd and Final Reading ten bills, three resolutions and deferred action on all standing committee reports on the proposed FY 2004 Budget.
The bill that would authorize the President to reprogram funds in the executive branch was top priority and was the first to receive Congress's approval. The bill would allow the President to reprogram up to 10 per cent from the departments and offices in the executive branch to fund the upcoming July 1, special election in the states of Chuuk and Yap, the inauguration of the President and the Vice President and a delegation of athletes, coaches and other officials to the South Pacific Games in Fiji.
The Standing Committees were urged to concentrate more on the authorization bill and the proposed FY 2004 budget during the 25-day session.
The ten bills approved before the adjournment included the bill to authorize the President to reprogram funds and one relates to the establishment of lapse dates for certain funds previously appropriated. The other 8 bills would change allottees of certain funds appropriated for the Mortlocks Region in Chuuk and to provide procedure for distribution of funds appropriated for the Faichuk Area in Chuuk.
The resolution pertaining to the ratification of an amended Treaty on fisheries between the United States, the FSM and other island nations in the Pacific was unanimously adopted. Also adopted were a resolution to express gratitude of the people of the FSM to the Honorable Jack Fritz for his many years of dedicated services as a member and Speaker of the FSM Congress, and a resolution to shorten the 1st Regular Session of the 13th Congress from a 30-day session to a 25-day session.
Discussions during committee hearings throughout the weeks were hectic, but educational. The discussions surrounding the process of the consolidated budgets for the national and state governments to and from the JEMCO and the process to obtain funds under the amended compact sections were often at length.
Some Members of Congress and other national and state officials are interpreting the process of the proposed budget as possible compromise of FSM's sovereignty. The interpretation is that FSM is an independent nation and should not be compelled to do things that an outside body or nation demands. The interpretation pertains to the new physical procedure negotiated by the negotiators of both parties to be used in disbursing the funds provided by the United States under the amended compact.
In committee hearings during the past weeks, the Committee on HESA reminded officials of the Department of HESA that although the functions of education and health had been transferred to the state governments, the department still must provide technical and funding assistance to the programs in the states.
Officials of the College of Micronesia-FSM informed the HESA Committee that they have been working with appropriate institutions and programs to upgrade the College of Micronesia-FSM to be a four-year institution in order to enable the college's students to enroll in BA degree programs. The college reported that the four-year plan could not be done unless the Chuuk Campus meets all the standard requirements provided under the four-year program.
In a joint public hearing with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the department informed the Committees on External Affairs, Ways and Means and Judiciary and Governmental Operations that the Cotonou Agreement, which Congress ratified in 2001, just recently, took effect last April. The agreement runs for 20 years in a four-year cycle. The department further informed the committees that the FSM has been awarded $4.8 million for its new and renewable energy programs and $1.4 million for emergency programs.
On May 27, Senator Isaac Figir wrote to Speaker Peter M. Christian and President Joseph J. Urusemal. The senator from the state of Yap, chairman of the Committee on External Affairs and chairman of the Yap State Congressional Delegation, suggested the two gentlemen review the per diem rates the government is using. Senator Figir stated in his letter to the two gentlemen that the proposed amount for government travel in 2004 is excessive and needs to be reduced. Figir also stated in his letter that a lot of times "government personnel traveling on official business often return with leftover travel funds."
There were few courtesy calls made during the session. The ambassadors of the United States, India and France to the FSM made courtesy call to Speaker Peter M. Christian while the ambassador of the People's Republic of China made a courtesy call first to Floor Leader Henry C. Asugar and later made another call to Speaker Christian. Other courtesy calls to the speaker included officials of the state governments.
On May 28, a group of young men and women visited the Congress. Top students picked from grades 11th and 12th from all the four states represented the group, FSM Local Close-Up. The 63 young men and women were given the opportunity to observe the Congress in session, attend a joint committee hearing and toured all the congressional office facilities.
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