Countdown To The Festival of Arts
Four months before the July 22 commencement of the 9th Festival of Pacific
Arts (FPA) in Palau, its theme Oltobed a Malt ("Nurture, Regenerate, Celebrate")
is already in full swing. Long-standing village signs welcoming visitors
and urging them to "Keep our hamlet beautiful" have taken on revitalized
meaning as the government steps up requests for island beautification.
Homes and business establishments exhibit fresh coats of paint, new foliage
is in evidence and the customarily clean island looks even tidier.
bleachers going into Palau's national track field are just one of
several capital improvements for the Pacific Festival of Arts scheduled
for July. Photo: Nancy Chism
In January and February requests for proposals announcing contracts for
final Festival projects appeared in Palau's local newspapers. Contract
winners were selected in late February and renovations are in progress
on selected roadways, the Senior Citizens Center, the Post Office and
the eight school sites where festival participants will be housed. The
Council of Pacific Arts, including 34 delegates from participating countries,
met from March 2-4 at the Koror State Capitol Assembly Hall for a last
status update. The organizing committee has submitted a tentative schedule
of events and special activities. Security and transportation systems
and new venues are undergoing test runs before being put into place for
The Palau government is showing major financial commitment to the Festival.
A bill allocating $2 million to supplement festival costs-acquired through
interest earnings from the Net Economic Cost Account under a subsidiary
agreement of the Compact of Free Association and authorization for negotiation
of a $1 million loan-was passed by the National Congress and signed in
February by President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.
More than 2,000 participants from around the region are expected in Palau.
For details on Festival activities, see the Festival website: www.festival-pacific-arts.org.
'Underwater' Scam Surfaces
A delegation from a South Pacific nation called the United Kingdom of
Atlantis suddenly showed up in Palau to offer the government a $100 million
low-interest loan. But among the many glitches in the proposal was that
the country's purported king, Sheikh Yakub Al-Sheikh Ibrahim, was a fugitive
wanted by the United States for wire fraud, money laundering, and false
statements among other charges, according U.S. authorities. And when Palau
investigators used a marine law enforcement program to locate the country
with the coordinates given by the delegation that visited Palau, "No land
mass was shown." Atlantis was apparently still underwater.
"This goes to show that money should never be the driving issue. It can
get you involved with the wrong people," says Palau President Tommy Remengesau,
According to documents they submitted to the president's office, Palau
would have to pay a fee of two percent of the loan, or $2 million to UKA
as part of the deal. The delegation asked to meet with Remengesau, says
Billy Kuartei, chief of staff for the president. Kuartei denied the request,
and instead set up a meeting with the president's senior legal counsel,
the attorney general and himself. Kuartei says at the same time an investigation
was begun into UKA and the delegation.
The UKA is said to be located northeast of Australia, east of Papua New
Guinea, southwest of the Solomon Islands, and west of Vanuatu, according
to a printout from the official UKA website, www.ukacrown.com. The website
says UKA was founded in 2000 and is a democratic royal monarchy based
on the Sovereign Order of Ibrahim, the oldest monarchy in the world and
one-time ruler of all of the Middle East. King Ibrahim is said to be a
direct descendent of the monarchy.
PMA Faces New Hurdles
Despite Air New Zealand backing out of a deal to provide key technical
support in February, Palau Micronesia Air remains geared-up for an April
20 start date, says Alan Seid, president of PMA. To fly internationally,
the fledgling airline must secure an Air Operator's Certificate, which
shows the airline meets all safety standards and is technically qualified,
Seid says. As PMA contracts an established carrier to provide pilots and
maintain its planes, the fledgling airline also wants to contract to fly
under that carrier's AOC. Air New Zealand was expected to be that carrier.
"Because of enormous changes in its market, Air New Zealand can no longer
provide us with an AOC," Seid says.
But Seid says after a recent trip to New Zealand, he expects to reach
a new agreement with another carrier shortly. Seid could not disclose
the name of the new carrier until a deal was reached. "We still think
April 20 is doable," Seid says. PMA first approached a foreign carrier
to operate under its AOC because the Palau National Aviation Administration
lacked the capacity to issue one for international flights. PMA is seeking
a New Zealand carrier because the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority,
which issues AOCs for the country's carriers, has long been supportive
of other Pacific Islands airlines, says James Bradfield, chief executive
officer of PMA.
With its first plane set to arrive April 16, PMA plans to fly four flights
per week to Guam, and two flights per week to the neighboring islands
of Yap, Chuuk and Ponphei. Plans are also for one flight per week direct
from Palau to Saipan, three flights to Manila and two flights per week
to Darwin, Australia. The Darwin flights are aimed at opening an untapped
tourism market for the region. The second plane set to arrive in October
would commence direct flights from Palau to Japan.
A Japanese group that put in $1 million into the airline has been bought
out, Seid says. The Japanese investors did not see eye-to-eye on the direction
of the airline, so an arrangement was made for a Palauan investor to buy
the group's shares, Seid says.
Speaker Gulibert Ousted For Alleged Affair
Mario Gulibert. Photo: Floyd K. Takeuchi
The Palau House of Delegates removed Speaker Mario Gulibert in early
March, saying a publicized affair alleged between Gulibert and an American
lawyer who served as House senior counsel was undermining the credibility
of the lawmaking body. The House also voted, 9 to 5, to remove House senior
counsel Rachel Dimitruk, asking for her immediate resignation. Gulibert
will continue serving as a delegate.
"This was an embarrassment to the House," said Delegate William Ngiraikelau,
who became the new vice-speaker in the power shift.
The alleged affair burst into the public arena after Gulibert's wife
was accused in court by Dimitruk of spitting at her and throwing a rock
at her rear car windshield. Dominica Ngoriakl was found guilty of malicious
mischief in October and the court case was carried prominently in a local
Ngiraikelau says following the trial, House delegates waited several
months for Gulibert to meet with them and "explain the situation." Ngiraikelau
adds Gulibert would have avoided the controversy by stepping down, or
if Dimitruk had resigned. Gulibert could not be reached for comment.
Prior to the vote on the House floor, Gulibert said his relationship
with Dimitruk was personal and had never affected the work of the House,
which he characterized as productive and marked by an unprecedented level
of cooperation among delegates.
He then charged that the new leadership had political motives. "A relationship
between two people is a personal issue, but I think you saw this as an
opportunity to remove me from the position of speaker," Gulibert told
delegates, according to a translation of the House session. "I wish we
would have taken time to discuss these problems, since they're internal
problems; it is not a problem of the work being done by the House of Delegates."
New Speaker Antonio Bells said the issue became public when the court
case hit the newspapers and the public began criticizing the entire House
for not taking action to resolve the issue. Bells also says Gulibert's
relationship with a senior legal counsel, who worked for all the delegates,
was an unacceptable conflict of interest. If Dimitruk was not the counsel
for the House, their relationship would not have become a public issue,
Businessman Charged For Bombing Rival Firm
How does a competitor, who lost 70 percent of his business to his rival,
avenge his losses? Bomb his equipment, or at least that's the believed
motive behind what Marvin Leon Guerrero is alleged to have done. He pleaded
not guilty to the charges in U.S. federal court in Guam in late February,
and bail was set at $1 million.
Guerrero, who owns Communication Specialist Inc., (CSI) on Guam and Saipan,
is alleged to have hired two men to bomb I-Connect towers on Saipan in
his attempt to cripple his competitor. The explosion also damaged communications
equipment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That's when FBI agents
from Honolulu, Guam and Saipan entered the picture, conducted an investigation
and less than a week later, arrested three people, all from Guam.
The incident occurred on Mt. Tapochao, Saipan's highest peak, about 10:40
p.m. February 7. Residents who live in the area heard a loud explosion
and saw the communications tower burning. Both I-Connect and CSI operate
cellular telephone services on Saipan and Guam.
According to information filed by the FBI at the federal district court
on Saipan, an FBI agent from Honolulu and a local investigator from the
Department of Public Safety found a crow bar and wire cutter in tall grass
nearby. The agent went to the Saipan Ace Hardware store and saw an identical
crow bar on a display shelf. The sales representative scanned the label
inventory that showed the crow bar and wire cutters were sold on the afternoon
of February 7. The surveillance cameras of the interior and exterior of
the store showed a man, later identified as Peter R. Mendiola, purchasing
the crow bar. Another individual, later identified as Andrew Quiambao,
paid for the wire cutter.
The two men were observed getting into a Nissan sedan. With the help
of Joeten Motors at San Jose, the authorized dealer for Nissan cars, and
Budget Rent-a-Car at Saipan International Airport, it was determined that
the car was rented by Andrew Quiambao on February 6. On February 12 Mendiola
and Quiambao were interviewed on Guam by the FBI and admitted to purchasing
the items at the hardware store and using them to break into the I-Connect
facility to cause the explosion, according to court documents. The same
day on Saipan, Marvin Leon Guerrero admitted to the FBI that he hired
Mendiola and Quiambao and even bought the gasoline used to destroy the
facility, court documents say. All three were arrested and charged with
arson, malicious damage to and destruction of government property. After
pleading not guilty, they are now awaiting trial dates.
-Frank S. Rosario
Marshall Islands, CNMI
Two Colleges On The Edge
Both the Northern Marianas College and the College of the Marshall Islands
are facing possible loss of accreditation-but the NMC's position is considerably
worse following the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges',
which is part of the U.S. Western Association of Schools and Colleges
(WASC), rejection of the college's progress report of June 2003 and the
mid-term report in January 2004. (Pacific Magazine Publisher Floyd K.
Takeuchi is a commissioner with the ACCJC.)
This in part prompted the NMC Board of Regents to force the resignation
of President Kenneth E. Wright February 20. "I accept full responsibility
for the loss of confidence that necessitates this unhappy conclusion to
our professional relationship," Wright said in his resignation letter.
"That loss is made all the more difficult because I continue to hold this
board in high regard."
For both colleges, U.S. accreditation looms large. Accreditation allows
access to U.S. federal Pell grants and other student aid-in Majuro, this
accounts for more than 50 percent of the college's budget. In addition,
without accreditation, students cannot transfer credits to American colleges
Acting NMC President Tony De Leon Guerrero said other problems with Dr.
Wright were the purchase of La Fiesta Mall in San Roque for the second
campus on Saipan that resulted in NMC losing $50,000 a month in maintenance
costs and the proposal to shut down instruction classes on Tinian and
Rota islands. "The board's perception was that Dr. Wright was viewing
the accrediting commission's warning lightly," Guerrero said. "That is
just the opposite of the Board's position. This is a major concern."
Meanwhile, the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) is not meeting U.S.
standards for operating the Majuro-based college and time is quickly running
out for the college to fix the problems, the head of the U.S. accrediting
commission said shortly after the WASC commission's meeting in San Francisco
in January. Although the commission accepted CMI's progress report, it
left the college on probation-which is only one step away from losing
accreditation. "They need to move to correct the problems and move quickly,"
says Dr. Barbara Beno, chairperson of the accrediting commission. "The
message is: Hurry up."
But time is not on CMI's side to comply with five major eligibility requirements,
as well as to show "significant progress" on dozens of recommendations
made by a commission team that visited the school last November.
"We acknowledge that CMI's done a lot of work," Beno adds. "They are
making an effort. But it's still not good enough. It has to be faster
and better." CMI is required to submit another progress report to WASC
in early April, and another WASC team will visit probably in late April,
-Franks S. Rosario and Giff Johnson
Tong Cuts ATR-72 Losses
Saying that Kiribati could not continue absorbing the losses from operations
of the leased ATR-72 aircraft, President Anote Tong cancelled the lease
and directed that the plane be returned to France in early March. This
ends a 15-month Air Kiribati experiment in servicing the mid-Pacific route
between Fiji and the Marshall Islands with the 70-seat plane. Since taking
office last year, Tong has continually expressed reservations about the
cost of ATR operations.
At the end of February, ATR, Air Kiribati and Kiribati government officials
met in Nadi to discuss possibilities. There was reportedly interest from
Air Pacific in buying the plane to continue the service. But that apparently
has not come to fruition. Radio Australia reported that Air Kiribati lost
"several million Australian dollars" since it began leasing the plane
in July 2002. The plane sat on the tarmac at Tarawa for nearly six months
until various air certificates were organized allowing it to begin service
in December that year.
The halt in service will prove beneficial to Air Marshall Islands that
flies Majuro to Tarawa each week, and took a revenue hit from the Air
Kiribati operation. It may also open the door to an Air Nauru initiative
to launch services from Brisbane connecting Nauru with Majuro, Tarawa
Governors Denounce Amnesty Plan
With the quickness of a tropical downpour ripping through a canopy forest,
Federated States of Micronesia Governors Rensley Sigrah (Kosrae), Johnny
David (Pohnpei) and Vincent Figir (Yap) have doused the notion of amnesty
for FSM Congressional leaders. In separate letters addressed to FSM President
Joseph Urusemal and Speaker Peter Christian, the state leaders said that
any attempt at amnesty through congressional bill 13-76 will not be supported,
and should be dropped. The letters were a collective response to legislation
introduced in January by Congressional leaders granting sweeping protection
against the misuse of public funds over the period of the first Compact.
"Just the mere thought to bring it into Congress is immoral, unethical
and should not be condoned," Sigrah says in his letter to Urusemal.
"Introducing and entertaining the (amnesty) bill shows the international
community that our country condones and even supports corrupted activities
by high officials of our national government," wrote Governor Figir in
a letter co-endorsed by traditional leaders. "It shows the state leaderships
and decent people of our nation that Congress are more concerned about
themselves than the…need for better social, economic and political development."
Cash For Kava, But At What Cost?
At the rate Pohnpei's famed rainforests are being destroyed, its self-proclaimed
title as the "Garden State" of the Federated States of Micronesia may
become a misnomer. The native tropical rainforests, which control the
flow and purity of water that is the lifeline for countless villages,
are the linchpin to Pohnpei's natural heritage. But today, what many families
see in these finite forests is a fistful of dollars from clear-cutting
sakau plantations. Sakau-known popularly as kava-is the cultural cornerstone
of Pohnpeian society. Now it's become a prized cash crop that is causing
a virtual strip-mining of the forests.
(kava) has become a major cash crop in Pohnpei, generating an estimated
$5 million annually for sakau farmers. But conservationists say
this level of production is destroying Pohnpei's rain forests at
an alarming pace. Photo: Giff Johnson
Sakau generates approximately $5 million a year for 5,000 farmers. "People
know that sakau is really good if you cut all the trees down," said Nett
area sakau grower Sonsper Helgenberger. "If you leave the big trees sakau
doesn't grow good."
The impact of this explosion in sakau cultivation is beginning to show
in dramatic ways: torrential rains in the latter part of 2003 combined
with deforested sakau plantations on steep slopes above Meitik to rip
away an entire mountainside of topsoil, exposing large swaths of rock.
"Somebody's got to think about the future," says Bill Raynor, The Nature
Conservancy's Micronesia program director, based in Pohnpei. Raynor has
been working to save the forests in Pohnpei for the last 15 years. "I
think that's what the chiefs used to do, but now no one's doing that,"
Aerial and satellite photography has shown a decrease of original forest
from 42 percent of the island in 1975 to 13 percent in 2002. Much of this
loss can be directly attributed to sakau plantations.
Lt. Governor Jack Yakana says involving the chiefs in order to get effective
conservation results is essential. "I want the government to be partners
with the traditional leaders in regards to the environment and conservation
because then we will become very effective," he says.
There's some indication that the persistence of the Conservation Society
of Pohnpei, a group that targets sakau planting and the environmental
problems it's causing, is slowing down the sakau clear-cutting. Of about
750 forest clearings from 2000 to 2003, more than 60 percent occurred
in 2000, with significantly fewer the past three years, suggesting that
education efforts are having an impact.
"People complain about climate change, but this forest clearing also
affects our island climate," says CSP environmental educator Ben Namakin.
"It is not an effect from a far away country, it is here and we are creating
the change ourselves."