Friday, January 17, 2014

President Mori questions composition of the "Committee to Wait on the President" and asks for effective project planning and control

FSMIS (January 17, 2014): The Third Regular Session of the Eighteenth Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia got started with an "unusual" departure from tradition on January 10, 2014.

The normal practice has been that the Speaker of Congress appoints a four-member committee known as the "Committee to Wait on the President", comprising of Members from the four State Delegations. January 10, 2014 marked a departure from that usual practice when Speaker Dohsis Halbert appointed an all-Chuukese Committee to report to President Manny Mori that Congress is in town and ready for action. The Committee consisted of Senator Wesley Simina, Chairman, Senator Tiwiter Aritos, Senator Tony Otto and Senator Victor Gouland. President Mori questioned the motives behind having only Chuukese Members on the Committee and said it may have been done in response to his January 9 letter to Speaker Halbert. Chairman Simina said the Chuukese Senators did not request for such appointment and assured the President the Committee, as composed, represented Congress as a whole.

President Mori pointed out some items that have been pending at Congress, specifically the telecommunication bill as well as a number of nominations. He also made mention of a current budget supplemental request that he would like Congress to address this session.

It has become more evident that Congress would require more time to adequately tackle its workload. For this, President Mori suggested that Congress consider lengthening its regular sessions or adding one more.

A significant amount of time went into the exchange of discussions on the President's "urgent concerns" as raised in his January 9th letter to Congress regarding legislative process with regards public projects. The President asserted the entire process needs to be rectified beginning with the initial development of projects all the way through the various parts of the process that impact the successful control and completion of projects. More specifically, he raised the issue relating to the inadequate control of the processing and execution of the Project Control Document (PCD). A flawed and inadequate PCD renders the implementation and inspection of projects defective. In the same letter, the President emphasized that he would stop public project funds if the defective process remains unresolved.

Chairman Simina agreed that there are issues to be resolved relating to the matter and that both Congress and the Executive Branch need to work closely to resolve the issues.

The President also raised his concern that while the Nation experiences a period of increase in revenue generated domestically, Congress expenditures through public projects also surge. The President has voiced on numerous occasions that the FSM needs to save-up funds through its Trust Fund and a Set Aside Fund to be able to face financial pitfalls after 2023, address environmental demands and catastrophes, and invest in priority-based economic projects undergoing due diligence. He has been asking Congress to allocate money into these types of reserves and to cap allocations into "public projects and social programs" as way to demonstrate a serious concerted leadership front in charting a tenable way forward more responsively. Congress has not acted favorably toward the idea of a Set Aside fund. Instead, it has exercised the privilege of increasing allocations towards projects determined rather exclusively by Members on top of outstanding project funds that have yet to be fully expended.

As a matter of inquiry, Congress wanted to be updated on details of the breakdown of the $500,000 World Bank grant that went through the Congressional approval process during the November special session.

Congress also inquired about the status of the various typhoon relief assistance provided to the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Palau, the FSM State of Yap and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for disasters brought about by Typhoon Haiyan a few months back.

The President assured Congress that checks for the relief assistance have been disbursed to the named recipients. However, acknowledgement of receipt by their respective Governments have not been received by the FSM as of the meeting time.


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