Archive for March, 2007

March 16, 2007

Is Palau threatened by the Global Warming?

Global Warming… should we be concerned? What is this phenomenon? As Palauans and islanders, are we in danger from the Global Warming or Climate Change? Do we need to address this issue whether our island home is threatened or not? Do any fellow Palauans know what this phenomenon is in relation to our future? Are the recent weather conditions that have devastated other parts of the world, not to mention the loss of lives, have anything to do with this phenomenon? Are we seeing or experiencing any damaging effects caused by this event on our home turf?

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March 10, 2007

“What health means to a Palauan.”

“Health” and “being healthy” may mean a lot of things to Palauans. To many of us, it means to be physically active, to eat healthy foods, and to drink lots of water. We are reminded to maintain a healthy weight and to pay attention to our blood pressure and levels of sugar in our blood streams. We are encouraged to avoid foods high in fat, cholesterol and, and if you are unfortunate like some of us, protein is also restricted in your diet. Above all, we are reminded to avoid sugary drinks and foods at all costs. Ministry of Health staff reminds us constantly about healthy lifestyles and healthy eating habits. We eat the fish we catch, the taro we plant, and the vegetables we harvest. However, we are often told what needs to be done, and seldom get to have our say in what our health needs are.  Last year, a prominent local man was asked to speak on what health means to Palauans. This man, although, not associated with healthcare services is familiar with the needs of these services and he gave the following speech before health service providers and hospital personnel from various countries. This is what he had to say:

“Thank you for the privilege to address this conference. I would like to speak to you as the voice of the people in the villages and in the outer islands. We are not sophisticated people. We do not have nor understand modern machines and equipment. But we are many, and we are the people who need your help the most. The service ends of the programs you discuss here should begin to trickle down to us, not five years from now but as soon as possible. It would be the height of irony if our medical people could talk to theirs colleagues thousands of miles away at the push of the button, but would be unable to bring urgently needed medical assistance to someone who lives on an island only a few miles away. Reliable transportation must be a factor to be considered and planned for in all of our medical outreach programs. Take advantage of our attitudes and beliefs. Most people in the villages and in the outer islands view medical procedures as something similar to rituals. A patient would take his medicine religiously – morning, noon and evening – not because he understands the workings of the drug but because it appears to him like a ritual. We may not understand modern technology, but we are certainly familiar with natural phenomenon. We know that tides are affected by the phases of the moon, what plants flower at certain times of the year, and we know the direction of the prevailing wind for each month of the year. For best results, we suggest that you schedule your projects or visits so as to take advantage of these natural events. An immunization project scheduled for an island during its rough weather not only would appear foolhardy, but would also affect the credibility of the medical workers and the drugs they plan to administer. Don’t laugh at our superstitions. Get to know them and, where applicable, use them to enhance your work. For instance, a scientific explanation of disease, virus, and germs would go over our heads because we have not seen any of them. But if you were to tell us that they were like evil spirits, invisible but very bad, we would know exactly what you mean and would do our best to stay away from them. Finally, we have seen many instances where good programs did not take roots in the villages and in the outer islands simply because they never left the planning offices. We urge you to make sure that when decisions are made, the implementation part should follow immediately. It doesn’t do anyone any good if the levers of authority are pulled at the head office, but nothing happens in the villages and in the outer islands.”

These are wise words from a very intelligent man, my father, Bonifacio Basilius’ view. Health care providers should take the advice from the very people they service, incorporate their own professional knowledge on what the services should be, and bring the health back to the people. Bridging this gap helps patients trust in the health care system, and ultimately benefits the health of the community as a whole.

By M. Ebil-Rois Lawrence

March 9, 2007

Economic Symposium (My Realization) February 2007

My wife of twenty-one years, who is normally quiet and not into politics, asked me the morning of the second day of the Symposium if I was going to the Exposure. It dawned on me then that is exactly what the Symposium was all about. All elected and traditional leaders together with members of the business sector and all concerned members of the community should have come out and presented their views on the economic development of Palau. In a nutshell, how are we going to continue to be able to pay for all the public services we are receiving now and hope to receive more into the future as our needs become more complex and dependent on cash economy. The fact that a country’s economy cannot be developed without affecting its land, fresh water, and marine environment, and ultimately, people’s way of life, beliefs, traditions, and value system, and therefore, the Symposium was open to all citizens and friends of the Republic who wanted to help us achieve this goal. But the prevailing attitude among Palauans is that there are too many meetings already and so we do not need to talk anymore. This view is shortsighted (ng diak lo ladk ra ngarmedad) and dwelling only on the frustrations stemming from past talks and various plans that have led to nowhere.

The Symposium was different. Chairman Nakamura opened the Symposium by stressing the need to be forthright (di beches el dmu tekoi) and controversial (tekoi el sebechel el muchel a klatitekangel), if necessary, to incite meaningful discussions so that practical and fruitful recommendations can be reached for the review of our Compact with US in 2009. My realization of the Symposium is that it took a life of its own and became bigger than anyone else in Palau. For the first time, I have attended a gathering organized by Palau government and felt that the leadership and organizers of the event did not orchestrate what was said and how it was said. Chairman Nakamura got what he asked for after all. In short, those who presented were not shy in delivering comments or remarks that could not be mistaken as harsh criticisms on performance or lack of it for the leaders of Palau both past and present. On this count, I rate the Symposium a success.

 Not even the President, Senators, Delegates, governors, nor Chairman Nakamura could have stopped the speakers for openly and candidly spelling out how Palau has floundered (metetertorch) with its economic development since October 01, 1994 and more than $500 million Compact money spent. US, Japan, and Asian Development Bank (ADB), who are in position to help us, nicely told Palauan leaders that we have to shape up and get our act together. The Symposium can be likened to a fire alarm going off in a building on fire, and if we Palauans are going to heed (ke do mtab) the warning or go down with the burning building. To make sure the reader would not take my message differently; the Symposium should have been five days of reckoning and acknowledging that the leaders of this country have not done so well with the Compact money and aids coming from Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. And the electorate ( rechad ra beluu el sengkyo) are not free of guilt either. I will explain as we go along.

Frank Schnidman a law school professor from Florida referred to the Compact and our perception of its review or renegotiation as one being that America and Palau might be sleeping in the same bed but dreaming two different dreams. Nice way of telling that Palau leaders do not have a clear idea where they stand in this deal. Coming from a lawyer using marriage analogy can only mean more troubles are heading our way. Funny that he said compact is from Spanish origin commonly used for issues for two who are married. I recalled one of our local prominent attorneys in the ‘70’s explaining the difference between compact and treaty in terms of a court case. Like a marriage in trouble, none of the problems is going to be simple to solve. Having read the US Inspector General 2006 Report, Palau has a lot of questionable spending of the Compact money to explain.

Joji Morishita Japan Director of Fisheries told the leaders that starting small industries has its advantages. He went on to cite two success stories in Japan’s economic history. Sonny started at home and is a world name today. Toyota started from scratch in a garage and today competes with American giants like Ford. This became a reality only in the course of sixty years. About the same length of time Palau has been under the US. He elaborated on the small industries that became part of the Japanese way of life by having families assemble parts for manufacturers. In short, he was nice enough not to tell the Palauan leaders “el kmo bo msebechii a kelel Ngersuul” and do things that are compatible to your size, and more important, your culture. Please, do not forget that Japan has given millions of dollars in aids to Palau trailing close behind the amount we have received from US.

Philip Erquiaga Director General Pacific Department of Asian Development Bank had a mouthful of eye opening remarks about Palau’s economy, government, and public officials. Normally, I am not a fan of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ADB as they cannot be separated from global conglomerates (meklou el kombalii ra beluulechad) but I liked what this guy said. On the first day, I contended that Palau should be over developed based on the dollar amount of foreign aids we have received so far. That amount is close to a billion dollars today and still running. What I did not say is that if the leaders had been sincere, committed, and accountable in implementing the funds. He speared the heart of the matter by saying “foreign aids above 5 percent of its GDP tend to undermine governance.” Nice way of saying that foreign aids have a way of corrupting public officials. Palau foreign aids is 34.5% of GDP.

Why people are part of the problem: Erquiaga said, “members of the public tend not to care as much how aid and ‘Free’ resources are spent as they care about how their taxes (local money-my emphasis) are spent. As a result, the public tend not to try very hard to hold their government (elected leaders-my emphasis) accountable for how aid or other free resources are used. Governments that receive high level of aid and other free resources may hire more public service employees than are needed and also inflate their wages (US federal programs pay more than Palau government-my emphasis)…voters are more tolerant of governments that give them jobs and modern infrastructures as long as the money to pay for it all does not come out their own pockets. This in turn can lead to lack of maintenance” (or care-my emphasis). He illustrated how aid-dependent countries “tend to provide no additional benefit and may even undermine development. This has become known as the aid curse.” Nice way to tell leaders of Palau to lead the people to work hard for living and stop the “metara mentality.”

Wali Osman of the Department of Interior gave a food for thought befitting what all the speakers and presenters told Palau leaders: “the time has come to give a serious consideration to making knowledge the basis of the new economy.” A nice way of telling Palau leaders to put money on the education of our children. This is a slap in the face to the status quo mentality of Palau leaders on the value of education but it has to be a separate writing.

By Senator Santy S. Asanuma