Five senators question gov’t refusal to make airport documents public

  15 May 2018

By Bernadette H. Carreon

Five members of the “minority senators” questioned the government’s refusal to make public documents involving the airport expansion project.

In a May 14 letter to Obichang, Senators Regis Akitaya, Camsek Chin,  Rukebai Inabo, J. Uduch Senior  and Mason Whipps said that upon review of  airport documents sent to the Senate, a strict disclaimer (do not show, share, lend or otherwise make available to any person outside of OEK, do not remove from OEK offices) was posted on top of the documents.

The government has claimed that Joint Venture agreement, concession agreement and shareholder agreement are confidential information and are exempted from public review or disclosure under the Open Government Act.

However the senators said, its clear that upon review of the documents, they are business transactions, it should no be classified as “secret.”

The senators stated that under the Open Government Act, the government is only allowed to prevent the release of documents “in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.

The lawmakers said the public has the right to know the magnitude of a project such as the airport expansion.

“Following this logic and being firmly confident that the OGA Section 8(a)(2) is not applicable to this specific capital improvement project, would we then be able to make copies and inform the public about their airport project, the debt in which the agreements impose upon them, and how the government proposes to finance the project?”

The Palau Supreme Court Trial Division last week ruled in favor of the government, dismissing the case filed by five members of the Senate over the non-disclosure of information about the airport expansion project.

Associate Justice Kathleen Salii ruled that Minister  Obichang- named  defendant in the lawsuit- did not violate the Open Government Act  when he has already made the questioned documents to the senators available.

The court stated Obichang complied with the OGA because the “defendant ultimately agreed to disclose the requested documents.”

However the senators said Obichang did not provide the complete documents they have been requesting.

The senators said Obichang has not provided the Feasibility Study on the Airport Project, preliminary design and estimated cost of the project and JICA’s proposed agreement.

The senators have also filed a motion of reconsideration last Friday asking the court to overturn its decision on the airport lawsuit.

In their motion for consideration, the senators said the government took several weeks to comply with its requests for the documents when the Open Government Act was clear that the documents should be provided within 10 days from request.

In their letter to Obichang yesterday, the senators said they are looking forward to receiving the documents, under the Open Government Act, on or before May 24.

With this, The Chamber of Commerce also reiterated its request for Obichang to provide them copies of the airport documents.

This is in response to Obichang’s letter last week inviting members of the

Chamber of Commerce as well as Belau Tourism Association (BTA) to meet with him and representatives of the Japanese Corporations involved with the airport renovation.

“I am positive that this time, you will be able to provide the requested documents for the PCOC Members to review prior to the meeting, enabling them to formulate their questions for clarification by you and the Japanese Corporation,” Adora Nobuo, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director stated in the letter sent to the Minister yesterday.