Opening Remarks Nikolao I. Pula Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas And Chairman Joint Economic Management Committee

Last edited 11/30/2020

September 1, 2009
Honolulu, Hawaii




Nesor Annim




I recently addressed the Association for Pacific Island Public Auditors and decided to greet everyone in their respective languages.  Today's list is thankfully shorter.  Believe it or not, I think my pronunciation is even getting better!  Thanks for letting me practice one more time.

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to welcome you to our annual meeting of the Joint Economic Management Committee in this the fifth implementing year of the Amended Compact.  The road we've traveled together since the summer of 2003 hasn't always been as smooth as we've liked but I believe we're the better for it.  I believe our experiences over the past few years have better equipped us to deal with the issues that will inevitably come our way because of the nature of our work.

Before we begin, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lorin Robert, to the JEMCO team.  He joins Evelyn Adolph as the FSM's second JEMCO member.  I also would like to extend a warm welcome to Suzanne Lowe who recently joined the SBOC team as its Deputy Director for Compact management.  Additionally I'd like to welcome a new U.S. JEMCO member, White House Fellow, Dr. Nadine Gracia who represents Health and Human Services.  Welcome also to those of you who are here as observers from the National and State governments.

We have a long list of items to tackle but I hope you'll allow me to share a couple of newsworthy items.  New at the State Department this year is President Obama's Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.  I had the pleasure of accompanying Alcy Frelick and Assistant Secretary Campbell to the Pacific Island Forum a couple weeks ago in Cairns, Australia, where we also met with President Mori.  President Mori told us how pleased he was with that progress that we are making together and even suggested other areas needing improvement.

I also have news about an exciting and historic event that has happened within the Department of the Interior.  On July 2 of this year, under Secretarial Order 3287, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar elevated the Office of Insular Affairs within the Department by establishing an Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas.  This new Assistant Secretary will report directly to Secretary Salazar as currently do the Department's other five Assistant Secretaries.  This direct line to the Secretary means a significant change in the way we do business in Washington, and it already brings heightened visibility and attention to the insular areas.

As you know, President Obama appointed Tony Babauta as his nominee to serve as Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas.  The United States Senate already held his confirmation hearing and we are optimistic that the Senate will vote on his appointment when it returns from summer recess.  Our Assistant Secretary-designate is, as you know, a Pacific brother of ours who hails from the island of Guam.  However, he is no newcomer to Washington or to our issues and has more than a decade of experience on Capitol Hill.  We look forward to the leadership role he would be undertaking at the Department of the Interior.

Mr. Babauta has asked that I convey his gratitude to the FSM delegates and President Mori for the endorsement of his appointment at the recent Micronesian Chief Executives Summit in Majuro.  I am certain he looks forward to meeting and working with you.  However, we will ask him to first visit you in the FSM.

One thing that won't change is the very unique relationship that the U.S. shares with the FSM under the Compact of Free Association.  Mr. Babauta would want, as I do, to strengthen our partnership and continue to promote an atmosphere where we can come together as JEMCO, and hold respectful yet frank discussions of how Compact assistance can help the FSM reach its goals in education, health, and other priority areas.  Of course, we must work within the parameters of what's been negotiated and enacted into law, but I assure you that we will continue to do our best to help JEMCO fulfill its mandate in positive ways.

I believe we are at an important juncture.  Five years have passed since the Amended Compact came into effect and, during that time of transition, we've all had to adapt as best we can.  I'm very pleased to note that this year we have tangible evidence of the fruits of our labor.  There are outcomes we will review today and tomorrow, that show extraordinary progress and, for that, the FSM is to be commended.  For example, for the first time since 2004, we received nearly all of the FSM's proposed budgets prior to the deadline and all budgets were much more coherent and accurate than they have ever been. 

Let me go further.  As regards the three smaller sector grants outside of health, education and infrastructure, all FSM states are now using uniform project-based proposals.  This gives us a systematic approach that we've never had before, to evaluating the goals and performance of the grants.  And although infrastructure maintenance and Chuuk land issues remain challenging, we are beginning to see a sluggish infrastructure sector finally take shape with more projects in the design stage than there were a year ago

We are seeing improvement in the delivery of basic health services.  One of our largest concerns last year was Chuuk and the outbreak of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.  Under the leadership of Dr. Dorina Fred, who's here with us today, there has been tremendous improvement in hospital- and community-based treatment and tuberculosis management.  Dr. Fred and Chuuk's MDR-TB program recently received a national award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and that's no small feat!

I've heard that in Kosrae, the FSM's first ever mobile medical clinic is due to arrive on the dock any day.  It's an innovative and practical way for the FSM to avoid the need for standing dispensaries and introduce cost efficiency – that is of course, when and where road conditions permit.  More evidence of progress and internal initiative is the fact that for the first time, SBOC and FSM's Department of Health and Social Services have produced a performance scorecard for the entire FSM.  I'm looking forward to seeing the scorecard's trends.

Please allow me to share just one or two more examples of the positive.  All throughout the FSM, single audits have been done on time.  The Chuuk Financial Control Commission (CFCC) is working well and Chuuk's financial deficit situation seems to have turned a corner for the better.  As for the education sector, the FSM National Department of Education has submitted also for the first time ever, a very professional and informative report on the status of education throughout the nation.  I understand that it culminates years of development and nationwide training on data systems.  What is does is presents us with a valid baseline from which to monitor progress and the FSM should be congratulated on a job well done.

Truly, this is a year in which the progress is more notable than not.  On behalf of the U.S. members of JEMCO, let me say that we appreciate everyone's hard work.  We look forward to the continued leadership of President Mori and to leadership within the FSM States.  Thank you.

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