A maturing active citizenry

By Kambes Kesolei

In our first editorial of the year published on January 5, 2010 titled “2010: The year of the citizens” looks to be more prescient everyday.

“The public is showing signs of maturity. A civic movement of citizens is steadily coming out to fill the void that has been missing from the current crop of political leaders. It has emerged because they deserve more than the low quality work generated from the halls of Ngerulmud. The deep public cynicism has moved the citizens to push for counter-narratives on real substantive issues and to make sure that the political class is held accountable for their words and actions…So it is with optimism that this year 2010 will mark the turning point for the Republic. The citizens will make sure that it will no longer be business as usual for the political leaders…”

To review with almost three full months still to go, here’s what is currently happening and others heard through the grapevine that are likely to follow:

Transparency:

In June this past summer, Former Senator and community activist Santy Asanuma sued the Senate and several senators for violating his constitutional right established under Article IV, Section 12 for preventing him from observing the official deliberations of a Senate committee regarding the issues surrounding the receivership of the defunct Pacific Savings Bank. The lawsuit is set to go to trial.

In regards to transparency of this government, a lawsuit is likely to be filed in the near future against the CIP office and the administration for failure to release for public viewing the documents regarding the bidding process of the Taiwan stimulus projects.

Constitutional violations:

Class action lawsuit has been filed against the Bureau of Immigration and the Toribiong Administration to halt the collection of $25 from foreign laborers. The $25 alien tax is collected on all foreign nationals with the exception of the citizens of USA and FSM. The alleged violation brought by the class action includes the equal protection clause and unconstitutional imposition of taxes by the administration. A temporary injunction has been granted by the Supreme Court to stop the Bureau of Immigration from collecting the new alien fees.

Lack of government prosecution:

With the Office of the Special Prosecutor, in effect, closed down for the past half-year, citizens are mulling taking over the case to act as citizen prosecutors against Senator Alfonso Diaz on the Special Prosecutors stipulations executed on November 17, 2009 in which the Special Prosecutor binds the government of Palau to delay the trial for six months and to allow time for defendant Diaz to show good behavior. And if within the six months, the Senate will reform its ethics system acceptable to the Special Prosecutor, all counts against the Senator Diaz shall be dismissed but if the Senate does not comply, then the action against Diaz, shall resume.

Talk of citizens’ petition is gathering steam to request the members of the 8th Olbiil Era Kelulau to support of a resolution to expedite the hiring of the new Special Prosecutor. There are reports that the vacant position of a Special Prosecutor is preventing many from the community from reporting or filing legitimate complaints against public and government officials without fear of repercussions.

Lawsuit against OEK and the President:

The president and the OEK may have opened themselves up to lawsuits by the citizens regarding the legality of the adoption process of the FY2011 budget bill (House Bill No. 8-88-10S, HD3, SD3, CD1, PD1).  The president’s draft (PD1) was allegedly killed when it failed to get approval from both houses of OEK, and therefore, the subsequent recall process is alleged to have been illegitimate. Legal questions have been raised regarding the president’s authority to introduce new policy measures and to item increase several of the budget activities.

Compact education campaign:

A small group of citizens met last week to discuss and educate themselves on the Compact Review Agreement and the drastic changes imposed by the United States as a condition for the $232 million. Similar activity is being planned in a form of public education campaign by a group of citizens to inform the citizenry of the new compact review agreements.

So there you go! What’s not to like about active citizenry?  The citizens are pooling their personal funds together to hire legal representations; taking active interests in the legislative process; consult with experts on public policies; educating and informing each other on variety of issues near and dear to their hearts; and round-up public supports and provide proper criticisms and narratives on the many issues that otherwise could have far-reaching consequences to the people and country.

2 Comments to “A maturing active citizenry”

  1. Your last paragraph is very hopeful. From a distance, I want to add my support and prayers to all the individuals, small groups, and NGOs throughout Belau who are organizing all these grassroots activities. But I want to raise some critical questions!

    Regarding transparency, the same article you cite from the Belau Constitution is very clear and unambiguous. Under Fundamental Rights section in the Belau Constitution – Article IV, Section 12: “A citizen has the right to examine any government document and to observe the official deliberations of any agency of government.” There should NOT be any arguments about whether or not Santy Asanuma or any other Belau citizen cannot have access to OEK deliberations about anything our government does.

    Why is this even an issue in 2010?

    (And regarding the suings and counter-suings in Belau, I think this is a reflection of something much more troubling. We are not perfect and will always disagree with others on anything. At the very least though, we should have organizations of peace and reconciliations apart from and separate from the Courts where our citizens can continually learn the art of compromise, negotiation, peacemaking, reconciliation, etc. There should be community and grassroots organizations devoted to ensuring community peacemaking, educational programs at the high schools and PCC to support the intellectual exploration of justice, peace, and reconciliation among individuals and the community, such as what constitutes “justice” and “peace” in the community, are they useful or advantageous social ends, and why and how do we educate peoples to be compassionate peoples, deliberative and just in their dealings with each other, and supportive of the ethos that support and maintain the social fabrics of our society and which make the sense of community a worthwhile end in itself. How did the good folks of old Belau get along with each other and can we learn from them? Etc, etc… And the Courts should support the official practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution as an alternative to litigation. On a small island such as Belau going through and experiencing so much social upheaval, we should invest our time and resources to supporting peacemaking and reconciliation institutionally as way to preserve long term community peace and social tranquility.)

    As far as the proposed foreign workers’ tax and any other proposals that may appear to be unequal, the Belau Government is currently in the process of producing its Universal Periodic Review to the United Nations Human Rights Council about human rights practices throughout the Republic. In principle, human rights are necessarily universal, meaning that all public policies that extend any benefit to any sector of the national population cannot be and should not be limited in any way. Anything else would amount to exclusionary and discriminatory policies that are inappropriate and acceptable to a United Nations member country. Under the same Fundamental Rights section of our Constitution, Article IV, Section 5, ALL persons are to be given “equal protection” under the law and should NOT BE DISCRIMINATED against. The only exceptions were to be for the “preferential treatment of citizens” but even this was further limited to special cases of minors, the disabled, elderly, the poor and similar groups. I think these limitations do not refer to foreign workers. Foreign workers in Belau, in the first place, should only be in Belau legally, work legally, and pay taxes legally. Our governments should treat them fairly and equally. If all workers are treated differently or discriminated in any way, we must be prepared to justify those different treatments to the United Nations and to any other international organizations to which we belong with membership conditions that include us being expected to observe all legitimate standards and safeguards of human dignity for all. Even our Constitution is specific on these things. We cannot do differently than what our Constitution proclaims and justify our actions and policies as universally-binding in any way.

    Discussions of this proposed alien tax including the minimum wage increase proposal currently in the OEK should be tied to Belau’s Universal Periodic Review. You should ask the government to explain how and why people within our domain are treated differently in any way when in reality they work together towards building the national capacities of the country. Ask the government how the government is prepared to account for or explain these discriminatory practices within our national borders. Production of a nation’s Universal Periodic Reviews requires collaboration and consultation with the public in all areas and to the greatest extent possible. If there have been no government consultations with the public, go and ask the government why? And then demand that there be public meetings with the appropriate agencies to create a forum for inputting public concerns into/within the Republic’s human rights report to the United Nations.

    On Senator Diaz’s behavior, it was brought up within some international media during the recent Compact review and negotiations with the US Government on the inappropriateness of an elected Belau official engaged in terrorizing Americans being a member of the negotiating team negotiating with the US Government for over $200 million Compact money! So I hope this gets resolved in some acceptable manner that is fair to Senator Diaz and to the integrity of our Government.

    It seems odd that the OEK House initially disagreed with the President’s conditions on the 2011 BUDGET but then reneged and signed it! If this is allowed to go forward, it would establish a dangerous precedent that gives undue authority to the president to do as he pleases against the wishes of the Congress on any an all budgetary expenditure matters. The Budget has been passed and signed, so what possible actions are possible?!

    As far as the Compact education campaign is concerned, it is appropriate and fitting that there be public gatherings to explore and discuss the consequences of the new Compact conditions, especially any new expenditure conditions imposed by the US. Some years ago at the East-West Center in Honolulu, the former president of the FSM, John Haglelgam, came to make a public presentation. All his presentation was based on the widespread dissatisfaction among FSM leaders and the public about new fiscal conditions imposed by the US Government in their Amended Compact, conditions that were considered so severe they negatively affected actual Compact fiscal policies and negatively interfered with Compact expenditure allocations for economic development throughout FSM. I also attended a separate meeting of FSM citizens when one of their Senators came and complained to no end about the same draconian Compact fiscal policies the US had imposed on the FSM. AND YET, THERE WERE NO FSM LEADERS OR CITIZEN GROUPS WHO WERE CONCERNED ENOUGH ABOUT THESE REVISED COMPACT CONDITIONS TO HAVE CONDUCTED EXTENSIVE EDUCATION CAMPAIGNS TO INFORM THE PUBLIC ABOUT NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES, CONSIDER WHAT KINDS OF CHANGES WERE ACCEPTABLE, AND REQUEST ACCEPTABLE CONDITIONS…

    * Now, Kambes, you may go on about a “maturing citizenry” in Belau. But looking back at the way things have turned out in Belau over the past two years, I hardly find any cause to rejoice! Granted, I am NOT there everyday to see and measure the slow and steady accomplishments of a “maturing” and “active” citizenry, but individual stories coming from home tell of a very different story! There is a steady out-migration of Belau’s brightest who cite an oppressive government environment that stifles their upward mobility and fail to nurture their creative imagination…

    WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH? Is this a case of perspective? Is it just a matter of looking at a cup that’s half full or half empty? What the heck is going on?

    You cite your earlier editorial that describes the reasons for the rise of an angry and impatient public demanding change to what was seen at the beginning of the year as “the low quality work generated from…Ngerulmud” and the “deep public cynicism” that provoked people to be become more active.

    Now that the public has “matured” and become active, as you suggest, has government work in Ngerulmud become high quality work and have the public become so moved and inspired by this elevation of quality that they express deep love and devotion to their leaders!?!

    Apart from the October 1994 Compact implementation, Belau actually declared its Constitutional independence in April 1982. We have been independent for nearly 30 years by virtue of that very same Constitution that assigns and allocates to us the political authority of an independent nation and the fundamental rights of citizens to which we are bound. Contrary to popular beliefs attached to October 1, 1994, that’s when we formally ended the arrogance of American imperialism in the Western Pacific and dedicated ourselves and our government to what we began 12 years earlier, the proclamation of our political independence and the beginning of a Constitutional Government that defined and characterized us as an independent nation!

    So why, nearly 30 years later, a citizen of Belau is still suing the government to have access (assigned to him and all of us a fundamental Constitutional right) to the documents and deliberations of our government? As a supposedly free and democratic nation for nearly 30 years, why have the citizens not had access to our government and NO ONE has cared before until now? Is this a sign of a maturing citizenry? Or should I be content and look at the glass as half full!

    So sorry for the length of this missive! I didn’t mean for it to become so long! Lol!

    Diak a chised?!

  2. You (Richard and Kambes) both make valid observations, but I would only add that there’s only a smaller segment of the citizenry that is maturing. Unfortunately, it’s only tiny segment which upholds certain values and “vision” that are indisputably seek what’s good for Belauans. We must lend support to that small segement of our society and work hard to educate the larger mass that in some kind of drunken stupor which has resulted in the election of disgraceful, selfish, insulting and clueless leaders.

    Real evidence and anecodal observations would point toward the same direction of disaster we’ve entered into since 2009. There had been contraction in Palau’s economic performance, rise in crime (robbery of food and other items to possibly support increasing drug usage), subdued freedom of expression by citizens for fear of job loss or other forms of repercussions, continuous propaganda to promote attained progress which is all a mirage/farce, manipulation of laws and regulations to benefit familes and supporters, abuse of public resources for personal gains, a culture of self-aggrandizement to silence existing and potential critiques and also fool the mass while personal agenda is uninterrupted, and the list goes on….

    So in the end..I would maintain there is indeed a horde of serious problems in Palau and we definitely will only be able to manage them once we help lend much needed support to even the small segment of our citizenry that is starting to get enlightened.

    Let us continue the dialogue…..

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