FSMIS (September 17, 2014): The Fifth Regular Session of the Eighteenth Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) opened on September 15, 2014 at the Congress Chamber in Palikir with ten Members of Congress in attendance. FSM Congress Speaker Dohsis Halbert appointed Vice Speaker Paliknoa K. Welly as Chairman and Senators Joseph J. Urusemal, Tony H. Otto and David W. Panuelo as members of a special committee tasked to consult with the Executive Branch regarding the session.
In the morning of September 16th, the Congressional Special Committee, better known as the “Committee to Wait on the President”, met with Vice President Alik L. Alik and members of the President’s Cabinet to allow the two branches the opportunity to consult on priority matters for the session.
Vice President Alik led the executive branch team as President Manny Mori is currently in New York to attend the Annual General Assembly of the United Nations as well as other meetings.
At the start of the meeting, Vice President Alik thanked Congress for progressing its review of the fiscal year 2015 Recommended Budget for all the branches, departments, agencies and other operations of the FSM National Government, which was transmitted by the President in April. Given that FY15 is only a couple of weeks away, Vice President Alik stressed the need to have the budget review process by Congress completed soon enough to allow ample time for review by the Executive Branch prior to October 1st.
The Committee pointed out that Congress has not received any notice of grant awards for sector funding in FY15 under the Compact of Free Association, as amended. The Director of SBOC, the focal office for the FSM on Compact matters, indicated that official notice of award documents will not be available before October 1st. However, for budgeting purposes, Director Evelyn Adolph commented on her position stating that Congress could progress the budget review process based on available communication regarding FY15 sector grants already approved by the FSM-US Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO) during their latest meeting.
The Vice President and the Committee also revisited the FY14 revenue projection tracking which was submitted to Congress on September 2nd, in which the Department of Finance and Administration alerted Congress to a shortfall of $5 million in revenue collection for the current fiscal year. Vice President Alik said he was happy to inform the Committee that after the report had been made, the FSM Government was able to make some collections which in effect narrowed the shortfall to only $800,000. He also stressed that based on reliable forecast, the FSM Government anticipates receiving another $3 million in collected revenue within the remaining days of FY14.
Another agenda item entailed the reporting of the current status of the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) project, which has a prospective funding support of over $48 million from the World Bank under its IDA 17 funding package. This project would involve major internet capacity improvement through the provision of fiber optic cable connectivity for Yap State and Chuuk State and O3B satellite technology for Kosrae State. Mr. Francis Itimai, Secretary of Transportation, Communication and Infrastructure (TC&I) provided the report as part of an overview of the latest meeting with officials of the World Bank held in Guam earlier this month. According to Mr. Itimai, the World Bank Board will meet on September 29th, at which time we can know for sure if the World Bank will indeed provide the grant being sought to fund the ICT project.
Vice President Alik also sought Congress support on a proposed bill that will create a 2023 Investment Fund, transmitted to Congress on September 5th. Additionally, the Vice President also indicated that two appropriation bills for the Weno Road project and the Kosrae State Hospital redesign will be resubmitted to Congress for appropriation.
The last item discussed had to do with a shortfall of around $28,000 in the current personnel budget for a few offices, namely the Office of Environment and Emergency Management, the Personnel Office, the Banking Commission Office and the Public Information Office. According to finance officials, the shortfall resulted from an error in computing fringe benefit, which was fixed on a 11 percent rate -- 2 percent short of the actual needed amont. Vice President Alik asked that Congress lift the restriction on reprogramming for this fiscal year only to allow the offices to use other remaining funds towards personnel costs.
The meeting ended with the mutual expression of support as the officials attempt to close out the current fiscal year and kick off a new one in a beneficial manner.
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