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



4 Comments to “Economic Symposium (My Realization) February 2007”

  1. Senator Asanuma,

    I must, first, wish your wife, Mrs. Rebecca Asanuma, a belated but very happy International Womens Day (March 8th). She is a wise woman as I’m certain you already know. Congratulations on your 21-years of marriage. That is a tremendous accomplishment. I commend you, also, for recognizing her right off the bat in this profoundly significant post.

    Strangely, I, who can always find some point to add or criticize, find myself utterly mute upon reading your words. These are sobering thoughts and in their depth and breadth demonstrate a clarity of thought and expression, thus far lacking in Palauan political analysis and discourse.

    I tried but found nothing to disagree with or argue about. You have performed a tremendous public service by sharing your insights. I am relieved and hopeful that the symposium was the success that you described.

    I support your commitment to civic duty and look forward to your continued public service. I hope to contribute what little I can and that all Palauans will do their part for the future of Palau.


  2. Senator Asanuma and Mr. Ramarui:
    As one of the assistant coordinators on the Economic Symposium Task Force for the CRC, I wish to grant a heartful “mesulang” for your comments. It was a lot of work and the CRC, chaired by former President Nakamura and run by the board composed of Dr. Kuartei and others, actually gave the younger people of Palau, such as Mr. Ken Uyehara, Ms. Sharon Sakuma and a myriad of other talented and dedicated individuals an opportunity to contribute to this effort.

    Although I am proud to have been part of this significant event, I only wish that we would have done better in getting the ordinary working people in there to share their views and struggles and give us ideas as to how the system could be better structured and streamlined to serve the public. I can only guess that they are tired and frustrated. Most of the people that attended have been the same people “running the show” for the last 20 years or so. If it is then the same people, then the very astute public probably figures that it will be the same result.

    However, I do note that ther are now very committed and dedicated public servants in the Senate, House and Executive Branch and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to work with them.

    With every effort we put forth, we learn from and try to get better at the way we do things. Despite my minor criticism here, I think there is a lot that was accomplished and it is up to all of us to put forth and implement these ideas for everyone’s benefit.

    Thank You.

  3. Dear Senator Asanuma,

    Thank you for such informing article. I have noticed for some quite time that our small nation is in a state of urgency regarding the status of our economy. Economy is not a new term to us, it has its meaning even in our native language (keruul) its just that our economy needed a good planting (planning) in order to grow, unfortunately we used the wrong fertilizers and we didnt achieve potential growth but luckily economy fluctuates and that means we can learn our mistakes and we can always use proper methods to achieve a healthy growth in the future. As globalization continues to open more investments and trading among countries and with our relationships with such countries, (China, U.S., Japan, Taiwan…Etc.) a possible investments in such countries economy or their emerging corporations would have generate more open doors to future investments that can accumulate our savings. Last but not least, Senator I applaud you in regards to education as our investments, your are right on track with such point that there are negative implications and backlash because we overlook such investment. The next generation are looking at the U.S. military as the only option rather than competing in academia. Its sad that our countrymen and women are fighting a war for a wealthy country while our country is slowly approaching a state of financial crisis.

    Thank You.

  4. Very extensive comments of this symposium and clarity of issues concerning the future of our small island nation, however what good do we get from commenting articles and issues posted than educating our community of what is going on in the government and how they can solve some of this problems? its like telling a 3 year old child, ” your problem is, you cant pick up your food” why not teach this child to pick up the food not feeding but teaching how to feed himself. For that comment on being Palauan Service members, telll you what…yes we can get educated and work in palau..but as clearly stated in some articles in this site..we dwell in the past not the future and only selected individuals are entitiled to the scholarships..well ..let me put it this way…di ou belau rengii..hey ngka edak hal ek nguu el msang..or ng chedak mak hire er ngii, ng ngelekam mak msang a scholarship el mora school. same thing as with the “Free Resources”..its free what could possibly go wrong… ..lets not talk about issues, lets try to fix them rather

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