Colonia, Yap. November 20, 2014 – On November 7, 2014, Senator Isaac V. Figir and Senator Joseph J. Urusemal led a delegation to the Ulithi Islands of Asor and Falalop to conclude a Congressional initiative of keeping the outer island communities well informed primarily on concerns of climate change, immigration and trafficking of persons, and on the US financial assistance to the FSM under the amended compact scheduled to end in 2023.
Last August, the same delegation, except without Senator Tony Otto on this recent trip, began a Congressional outreach initiative in all the remote island communities of Yap.
The recently completed meetings on Asor and Falalop, like earlier meetings on the other islands, had high turnouts and participation from community leaders and members, including a separate meeting with the students and staff at the Outer Islands High School. Similarly, the delegation continued its visits and assessments of the health clinics, schools, and other Congressional funded projects on these two islands.
The Near Termination of US Financial Assistance
In both communities, the gist of the discussions focused on the challenges and efforts of addressing issues of the FSM economy and the expected termination of the US financial assistance to the FSM in 2023 under the amended compact of free association.
“2023 is not the end of the world, but it will be the end of over $80 million in annual grants for our government operations and services,” stated Senator Urusemal.
Further adding that the FSM’s financial savings, including the Compact Trust Fund, will not be sufficient after 2023 for the National and State governments to operate and provide the current level services to its people, particularly in the areas of health and education.
The delegation then talked about the President’s initiatives of having created the 2023 Planning Committee charged with coming up with a comprehensive action plan to prepare the FSM for 2023 and beyond.
Further mentioning other on-going Congressional efforts including tax reform initiatives, and efforts to increase investments in the FSM Trust Fund. The FY15 budget had $10 million appropriation to be divided over the FSM Trust Fund and its state sub-accounts.
The Senators further explained that the compact funding in its entirety, with the exception of the SEG grants for the College of Micronesia, now goes to the four State Governments after Public Law 18-57 took effect zeroing out the FSM National Government’s share of the compact funds. The delegation also asked the community leaders to work closely with their State government to bring especially the schools and health centers on these islands up to better standards.
The Senators also made it a point to encourage the citizens to be more self-reliant and work towards self-sustainability in their day-to-day activities. Further encouraging the residents to be involved in the private sector development of the State through fisheries or tourism related ventures.
“We must be proactive and work to help ourselves first, and not purely depend on someone else to come to our aid. The goal is to be self-sustainable, self-reliant,” expressed Senator Figir.
Climate Change on the Atolls
In both communities, as well as all the outer islands of Yap, the effects of climate change were obvious and especially drastic on the food crops. Frequent disastrous weather coupled with high sea level rise is an immediate concern for the residents – both for their safety and long-term food production.
The delegation shared some of the on-going mitigation and adaptation strategies being employed by the FSM National Government to deal with the challenges of climate change, and further added that “the main challenge is for all of us to learn about the risks and strategies to combat, if not adapt to the effects of climate change.”
The delegation further commended the communities, and encouraged them to continue their efforts of employing community based strategies to adapt to the effects of climate change, including the unique concrete structured taro patches and marine conservation efforts like that of the Ulithi Marine Management program.
As a means for better adaptation to climate change, the delegation further shared a number of available resources, including a recently appropriated $100,000 in the FY15 budget for the FSM Department of Resources and Development to assist the “outer islands of the Federated States of Micronesia” with “food security production”.
The delegation pledges its commitment to continue to work through parliamentary mechanisms to advocate for more international support and attention to effects of climate change in the FSM.
An interrelated concern to both the challenges of the economy and climate change is immigration and out migration. On this concern, the delegation expressed the importance of understanding the difference in law and cultures when residing in a foreign country, so to be “good guests” and allow for the same opportunities of education and employment to future Micronesians without disruption and conflicts.
The delegation also cautioned the residents to be wary not to fall victims to crimes of human trafficking, forced labor, and other crimes in general when traveling outside the FSM, sharing that the residents can seek further migration assistance from offices like the International Organization for Migration, which the FSM is a member state.
Particularly for the US and its territories, FSM citizens are privileged under the amended compact of free association to freely train and work there. Unlike the financial assistance provision under the amended compact, this immigration provision would not expire in 2023.
The Senators spoke on concerns of the frequent disruptions, and now lack thereof, of telecommunication services on these islands by sharing the difficulty of the government to address this issue as the FSMTC is now an independent corporation. After passage of “telecommunication liberalization bill”, and without an organized regulatory authority, these remote communities in the rural corners of the nation question the future of their telecommunication services.
The other concern was over the Congressional actions of extending the required age to 65 for full social security benefits, on which the Senators explained that the rationale of the amendment is to ensure that system does not bankrupt given the disparity between social security taxes paid in to that of benefits paid out. Further adding that the system has around $300 million in insurance liability, thus its frequent need of subsidies including a most recent $1 million in the FY15 budget.