FSM National Economic Symposium opens in Chuuk
Palikir, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services): February 10, 2011 - Chuuk, FSM (FSM Public Information Office): February 10, 2011 - The National Economic Symposium of the Federated States of Micronesia opened at Saramen Chuuk Development Center, in Weno, Chuuk, on February 7. The chosen theme for this year's gathering is "Overcoming Impediments to Growth: Revitalizing the FSM Economy."
Master of ceremony, Jackson Soram, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs, introduced the state delegations and the guests of honor, including: President Manny Mori; Wesley Simina, Governor of Chuuk; Sebastian Anefal, Governor of Yap; John Ehsa, Governor of Pohnpei; Carson Sigrah, Lt. Governor of Kosrae; Isaac Figir, Speaker of the 16th FSM Congress; and Masachiro Chrislib, Chairman of Chuuk Samonpun Council.
During the morning session of the first day, in his welcoming remarks, Simina pointed out he had originally felt concerned in the thought of hosting the symposium in Chuuk, his concern being caused by the lack of hotel rooms, proper roads and other amenities to accommodate all symposium guests. However, he went on to underscore that the lack of this infrastructure in Chuuk was actually a good reason for holding the symposium here, as it "shows the reality of the economic challenges we face," said Simina.
Anefal, in his welcoming remarks, challenged all citizens and especially the government to "rise above all, and commit to implementing the outcomes of the symposium." Effectively, he explained that outlining outcomes was important, but more crucial was the commitment to their implementation.
Governor Ehsa requested, for his part, that the participants consider as one solution to some of the nation's economic issues, the need to re-evaluate the percentages of distribution of funds between the national government and the state governments. The distribution of revenue has always been 50% to each of the states and 50% to the national government; the Governor said he would like to see a higher distribution to the states.
Lt. Governor Sigrah, brought forward in his remarks a few specific issues the people of Kosrae hoped the participants in the symposium would address: increasing the number of available flights arriving and departing from Kosrae, taking into serious consideration the future of fuel supply and prices, and ensuring that future infrastructure development needs be "climate-proof."
Following Sigrah, Speaker Figir said "the cost of apathy is too high, and that cost is rising." Figir stressed the fact that the dollar amount FSM is receiving under U.S. sector grants is decreasing every year; "we need a plan to deal with the decreases without re-inventing the wheel."
President Mori, the last speaker of the morning session, in his keynote address, for his part, outlined the pillars of economic growth vital to FSM, namely: "manpower, infrastructure, user-friendly laws and regulations, practical solutions to our land issues, and a positive attitude towards domestic and foreign investment." Mori re-iterated that "a promising economic future can only be reached if sustainable economic growth is driven by the private sector."
The President voiced his hope that at the conclusion of the symposium, the participants will have formulated an action plan which is "realistic and achievable, state-specific, and that could easily be understood at the state level, where real economic and social activities take place."
Mori drew attention to what he deemed was a key problem: "the high expectation that the Compact funding will be the solution to all our issues." "We have lived too comfortably through the status quo," said Mori, "where short-term gains have been prized over long-term prosperity."
"Our way forward should include the following as its main elements: policy reform, accelerated rate and expanded scope of investment in infrastructure, role of the States in efficient facilitation and resolution of land issues, a commercial legal framework and access to finance," said the President.
In the afternoon session, the co-chairmen of the symposium, Fabian Nimea and Iso Ihlen Joseph, gave the 180 participants a brief overview of the agenda and goals of the symposium. Nimea brought particular attention for the need to break down the Nation's Strategic Development Plan "into operable immediate actions."
Sam Brazys, Senior Economist with the Office of SBOC, then gave a presentation on the FSM Economic Overview. He informed the audience that the FSM GDP has been more or less stagnant for the past fifteen years and that that the key to developing the private sector is the creation of a hospitable economic infrastructure environment. Such an environment would include reliable means of transportation, communications and energy.
The next presentation was offered by Steve Joseph, Vice President of FSM Development Bank. He outlined that since its inception in 1982, the bank has approved $169,627,817 in loans, principally in the sectors of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; wholesale and retail; and tourism. As of December 2010, the bank's total outstanding loan amount totaled approximately $33 Million. Aren Palik, President of Pacific Islands Development Bank, then gave an informal presentation of the PIDB's status in the region and the loan opportunities available through the bank.
Eugene Pangelinan, Deputy Director of National Oceanic Resource Management Authority, proposed an informative presentation regarding NORMA's role in the FSM and within the Pacific region. He advised that even though fisheries is designated as a priority source of revenue for the nation, "we must be aware that we are dealing with a finite resource." He explained that the FSM must look at what it can do to expand employment and development activities in the fisheries sector and not look simply at increasing revenue by increasing licensing fees.
Gibson Suzumu, Agriculture Program Director with the National Department of Resources and Development ("R&D"), outlined the major challenges for the agriculture sector, including, amongst many: low agricultural production due in part to lack of technical know-how, minimal financial investment in agriculture caused by limited access to finance, poor infrastructure, impacts of climate change, and the migration of youth from rural to urban areas. Suzumu proposed a number of avenues to be explored, such as finding ways to attract the nation's youth back to the field of agriculture, improving the marketing of local foods, together with increasing awareness to prompt greater consumption of local goods.
The next presentation was focused entirely on tourism and was presented by Bermance Aldis, Tourism Program Manager, also R&D. Aldis gave particular emphasis to a project called "Rainbonesia," branding FSM in a manner which will differentiate the country from other Micronesian islands, launched in partnership with the FSM Embassy in Japan. In particular, he articulated the need to concentrate efforts on a more pronounced use of technology for marketing purposes.
Bill Stinnett, Chairman of the FSM Chamber of Commerce, then spoke to express the specific needs of the private sector: reliable power, good roads, dependable communication, access to finance, clean water, educated local workforce and reliable ocean and air freight services. In closing, Stinnett advised that his hope was for the government to allow for stronger representation from the private sector on the various public commissions and boards, in order to ensure the private sector has a clear voice in the policy and decision-making processes coming from these government entities.
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