Year 2017 in Review

  09 Jan 2018

(Final months of 2017)

By: L.N. Reklai

Going into the last quarter of 2017, we saw two major tragedies in the first week of October. A tour boat carrying 29 passengers ran into a rock island resulting in injuries of 20 passengers, with one woman dying as result of her injuries. The boat driver Leland Naruo was also injured. [restrict]

Within the same week, a chinese woman was found strangled and dead in her home in early morning hours of October 5th.  Her husband found her unresponsive upon returning from picking up customers from the airport.

Shortly after, a young man Kozo Seichi was arrested for the murder the lady who was found strangled after a CCTV camera showed him walking around the house at the time of death.  Allegedly, Seichi confessed to killing the woman, saying he was trying to stop her from screaming after she woke up to find him in the house. No rape of the woman occurred according to official reports.

In addition, three men, Wilhelm Rekis Aichi, Willibolt Demei, and McQuire Imeong were charged with number of sexual assaults of a 13 year old minor.

More tragedies occurred with two separate vehicular accidents.  A 20-year old young lady Ms. Kerrie Ngelm Ngiraibai died when her vehicle hit an electric pole at Meselechbeluu in Airai on October 28.  Next day, Daniel Makilong died when a car speeding toward Topside collided with his car in front of Tree D Motel. Makilong was going toward downtown Koror when the speeding vehicle ran into his car.

Passengers of the other vehicle, Robin Ngirbabul the driver and Kailiko Aguon, passenger suffered injuries.

President Remengesau Jr. formally requested OEK to ratify United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which Palau signed on September 20th at the United Nations headquarters in New York, amid the North Korean nuclear threat on Guam and the Pacific Region.

Palau wins the bid to host Our Oceans 2020 Conference in Palau. The world event was recently held in Malta where participants and donors reported over 9 billion dollars pledged for support of oceans.  Pacific Islands will receive about $45 million for sustainable fisheries and climate change issues.  Palau will work with the Office of Pacific Ocean Commissioner and Pacific Community in planning for the event.

Senate Minority calls on Senate President Hokkons Baules to reverse increase of the Social Security contributions and  use proceeds of Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee to pay for the increase. The five Senators, Rukebai Inabo, Mason Whipps, Uduch Sengebau-Senior, Camsek Chin and Regis Akitaya stated that the increase in SS contribution will negatively affect standard of living for Palauans. Senators said that expected increase will also raise cost of food, fuel and other basic goods and services and as result Palau will be negatively affected.

In October, Airai State legislature, Ngerchumelbai, adopted a resolution appointing David Orrukem as the new Speaker of the Ngerchumelbai.  Legislator Orrukem will take the place of former Speaker Julio Omtei Ringang who had passed on earlier this year.

Palau Telecom reports difficulty with getting a cellular service up due to Palau National Telecommunications Corporation denying them interconnection.  Palau Telecom Chairman Sam Masang reported that they have invested great deal of money on their own international gateway and 2G system but the refusal of PNCC to interconnect until a telecommunication law is in place was causing major frustration.

November, law enforcement work continues with Narcotics Enforcement Agency reporting 45 new drug cases logged with 13 forwarded to prosecuriton and 29 still under on-going investigations.  NEA had seized over 700 grams of methamphetamine, 3 firearms and ammunitions and over $12,000 in cash including counterfeit bills.

Marine Law issued more citations for boat safety violations.  Increase in number of marine officers has resulted in more regular monitoring of boats safety laws and enforcement. Inspections were being made at Koror ports, rocks islands and Peleliu.

Government filed two Labor Traffickign and People Trafficking cases.  Earlier this year, a joint taskforce was created within the Ministry of Justice’s Labor and Immigration Division to crackdown on Labor and Immigration violations.  President Remengesau also issued a Directive creating a Taskforce on Human Trafficking to be headed by Minister of Justice Raynold Oilouch to address Human Trafficking and Labor Trafficking in Palau.

Koror State General Election took place on November 14 and candidate Eyos Rudimch and Franco Gibbons were the top votegetters with Eyos acquiring 1,175 votes and Franco Gibbons getting 1,094 votes.  Runoff election will take place on December 14, 2017.  Alan Marbou, Jason Nolan, Jennifer Sugiyama, Vierra Toribiong and Ann Pedro were the top five votegetters for Legislature at Large out of the 19 candidates.

Benjamin Iskawa wins the gubernatorial race in Ngaraard over incumbent Isaac Bai, and other contenders Isaac Soaladaob and John Mengidab.  Four candidates winning at Large were Keizy Shiro, Victoria Maui, Dwight Alexander, and Wilbert Ngirakamerang.

Seven fishermen from a capsized Japanese fishing vessel were reported missing when their boat sank after colliding with another vessel near the South West Islands of Palau.  Search for them ended when it was reported that the vessel that collided with them rescued and transported them to General Santos, Philippines.

Tourism arrivals for the month of November beat other months with 7.1% increase over previous month.

Beijing issued a ban on Chinese tour groups from booking tours to Vatican City and Palau.  According to number of news reports is PRC’s bid to pressure Palau to cut its diplomatic ties with ROC.  Beijing refutes the report that it had punished tour operators that booked tours to Palau but reiterate its policy not to sell tours to non-approved countries, or countries without diplomatic ties with People’s Republic of China.

Ngchesar State general election concluded with top 9 vote-getters.  Percy Recheluul, Marcello Ngirkelau, Jackson Doktok, N. Todd Ngiramengior, Chubby Mai, Isebong Saito, Priscilla Siangeldeb and Rebecca Ngirmechaet.

In December private citizens, Joshua Koshiba and Norbert Yano write Palau Election Commission questioning the legality of conducting a runoff election for Koror State  on December 12, stating that Koror State law K6-123-2001 is contrary to Koror State Constitution.

Mr. Koshiba and Mr. Yano filed a suit and restraining order against Palau Election Commission seeking to prohibit them from conducting Runoff election, and seeking to declare Koror State Law K6-123-2001 as void.

Court denied the request for Temporary Restraining Order filed by Joshua Koshiba to stop Palau Election Commission from holding a runoff election for Koror State.

Court dismissed the case against Philippine fish carrier Gene 8 due to lack of government witnesses. Court ordered the return of cash bail posted by owners of the fish carrier and the surety bond posted exonerated.

The seven volumes of translated Kraemer’s books were officially released.  It took seven years to translate seven volumes and over 1,000 pages from German to English.  The books chronicle the life and culture of Palau in 1908 to 1909. They include descriptions and illustrations of Palau’s material culture, oral histories, political structures, symbols and other parts of life in Palau in 1909.

President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. signed the first comprehensive telecom bill into law.  The law sets up regulatory authority and establishes basic rules to manage the industry including universal access, interconnection and licensing.

Palau reached a historic milestone with the official launch of the submarine fiber optic cable services, connecting Palau to the world for the first time through a broadband network.  Belau Submarine Cable Corporation reached  its goal ahead of schedule and under budget in connecting Palau to the world through a submarine fiber optic network.  The project was funded by Asian Development Bank  and in January executed a contract with SEA-US Consortium to connect submarine cable to Palau with expected service date to begin in January of 2018.  This goal was reached in December of 2017.

European Union issued a report blacklisting 17 countries of being guilty of providing tax avoidance scheme and name Palau as one of the blacklisted country.  Palau’s Financial Investigative Unit (FIU) refutes the report stating that Palau is not a tax haven and has no off-shore banking laws  and have very strictly regulated financial system.

Ministry of Health announced the end of the Dengue Fever Epidemic in Palau.  Since October of 2016, the dengue cases have been climbing reaching a peak in May where it was upgraded from Dengue Fever Outbreak to Dengue Fever Epidemic. By October of 2017 the number dropped below outbreak level with only 8 cases documented.  Since December there has been no reported case of dengue fever.

December, Human Trafficking Office   at the Ministry of Justice opened its doors for service.  The office is manned by a full time staff Warren Umetaro with support from NEA, BPS and Immigration and Labor.

Palau Compact Trust Fund market share value increased from $196.7 million to $219.7 million in one fiscal year, a gain of $23 million dollars.  The Trust Fund Board of Trustees also reorganized with Minrang Kloulechad as new Chairwoman and Lindsay Timarong as the Vice Chairwoman.  Keiden Kintol as Secretary and Reagan Belechel as Treasurer.

Koror State Runoff Election results came with Franco Gibbons in the lead with 1,771 votes versus Eyos Rudimch with 1,582 votes.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, which incorporated the funding for Palau’s second Compact funding agreement.  The Agreement was signed in 2010 but U.S. have yet to fund it.  This is the first time that the source of funding for the agreement has been identified and is pending the final congressional approval of budget law.

Another major milestones for 2017, which began in the beginning of the year with the commitment of Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Peace Foundation, was reached on December 19 with the delivery of the 40 meter patrol boat Kedam to Palau.  Kedam is joined by smaller patrol crafts, as part of maritime enforcement and surveillance support for Palau.  In addition to the Kedam, Palau also receives marine law building, a new berth, a smaller support craft Euatel, funding for 15 new officers and fuel support for 10 years.  Total value of the donation to Palau is $60 million dollars.

Palau launched the world-first eco-initiative that requires all visitors to sign a pledge making a commitment to protect Palau’s natural environment and respect local traditions.  The Palau Pledge is part of the immigration procedure where the pledge is also the entry stamp used  for receiving and recording visitors to Palau.

Debate over Koror State gubernatorial election continues.  On December 19, Trial Division of Palau’s Supreme Court ruled that Koror State Law K6-123-2001 is valid and not in violation of Koror State Constitution.

On December 28, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, issued a decision overturning the decision of the Trial Division by invalidating Koror State Law K6-123-2001 but upholding the results of the runoff election and  upholding Franco Gibbons as the winner of the Koror State gubernatorial election.

President Remengesau rejected Pension Plan’s Board of Trustees proposal to raise Pension contributions by 2% by January 1, 2018.  He promised to work with national leaders to find other solution to the funding sustainability of the Pension Plan.

Bureau of Immigration prepares itself to implement the Pristine Paradise Environmental Fee (PPEF).  The law was amend to require airlines to put the fee unto the ticket of each passengers.  Exempted or eligible individuals can obtain refund of the PPEF fee through Immigration upon arrival.

Comments made to news media in Taiwan by Palau’s Ambassador Dilmei Olkeriil stating that the relationship between Palau and Taiwan is “extremely stable” drew ire from OEK, both Senate and House. Letters to Minister of State Faustina Rehuher-Marugg questioned the validity of the statements made by Ambassador Olkeriil and her right to state them.

Minister Marugg responded asserting that Palau has committed relationship with Taiwan but that like any relationship need to be assessed once in a while. She further reiterated that Palau’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan does not prohibit Palau from establishing trade relations with any other country.

Palau Visitors Authority report that November arrival numbers was down by 1% compared to  same period last year but they are seeing increases in visitor arrivals from Japan, USA/Canada and European markets. Total 2017 numbers is expected to be less than 2016 by at least 12%.

Minister of Finance Elbuchel Sadang reported budget surplus of $9 million for the FY 2017.  It was reported that government collected $3.7 million more than was projected and balances remaining of unexpended budgets was at $6.1 million resulting in a total of $9.8 million in surplus.

The Year 2017 in Review provides a cross cut view of events, issues and activities that were of importance to the people and residents of Palau.  Island Times Newspaper aims to capture and report all the news that have impact on the life of the people and the residents of Palau. [/restrict]