May 29, 2017 Last Updated 1:08 PM, May 23, 2017

Battle for top job

IN what may be a record in the Pacific islands for speed of a no confidence motion following election, just three days after Casten Nemra’s inauguration as the new President of the Marshall Islands on January 11, opponents in the nation’s parliament filed a notice of their intent to move a vote against Nemra’s few days old government.

The rushed leadership challenge, unprecedented in 37 years of constitutional government, offers an indication of the volatility and apparent lack of stability in the nation’s parliament following the November 16 national election, which also produced an unprecedented result: 40 percent of the 33 seats changed hands.

The election resulted in half of the senators aligned with the ruling party losing their seats, and a strong contingent of younger Marshall Islanders elected. The parliament will decide the fate of the new government on January 25. The Nitijela (parliament) has been split from its opening session January 4, when the Speaker and Vice Speaker were elected by one faction and the President by another.

This is another unprecedented development for these top national leaders to be elected by different groups in Nitijela. New Speaker Kenneth Kedi and Vice Speaker Jejwarick Anton won by 19- 14 margins, but Nemra was elected by a one-vote majority, 17-16, as some senators bailed from an opposition coalition — an alliance of the longstanding opposition grouping of senators and about 10 of the newly elected senators, which had agreed to elect veteran MP Alvin Jacklick as President...

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Poll twists and turns

THE election of the Marshall Islands’ — and the independent Pacific’s first — head of state in late January followed a rollercoaster series of leadership twists and turns in this north Pacific nation’s parliament. It saw the nomination by a paramount chief of a commoner, Casten Nemra, and his subsequent election on January 4 as the youngest president in Marshall Islands history.

But his slim majority collapsed just days into his presidency, a motion of no confidence was moved, and endorsed by parliament January 26. The next day, Dr. Hilda Heine was elected president of the nation without opposition, becoming the first woman to head this nation in its 37 years of constitutional government. Heine is not new to breaking glass ceilings for women. Earlier in her career, she was president of the College of the Marshall Islands and permanent secretary of education.

In the 1990s, she moved to Hawaii to complete her Ph.D. in education, becoming the first — and still only — Marshall Islander to achieve this postgraduate degree. She worked for many years with the Honolulu-based regional organization PREL (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning) that supports regional educational exchanges and reform projects in U.S.-affiliated islands. She returned to the Marshall Islands to stand for election to Nitijela (parliament) for Jaluit Atoll in 2007, but lost. In 2011, she switched to run from Aur Atoll, easily winning a seat in parliament. 

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Local pharmacy, govt ministries under probe

New Year’s Eve is normally the time for popping champagne bottles and partying into the wee hours. There was plenty of that in the Marshall Islands. But in an unprecedented government action, law enforcement officers in Majuro, wielding court-approved search warrants, descended on a local pharmacy and medical supply company, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance’s procurement and supply office on New Year’s Eve, confiscating computers, thousands of documents and other records in what looks to be the most massive fraud probe in the 34- year history of Marshall Islands’ constitutional government. The target is suspicious bids involving hospital equipment and supply orders, which routinely run into the millions of dollars annually. The Auditor-General and law enforcement personnel say they suspect government workers in the Ministry of Health and elsewhere were accepting bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative contracts for hospital needs. While the investigation played out in the first three weeks of January—including reported visits by investigators to Majuro Hospital inventorying equipment purchased through suspicious bids, some of which sources said could not be found.

Unprecedented step: The head of the Public Service Commission Marie Maddison was joined by President Christopher Loeak in notifying government departments that they were taking the unprecedented step of putting the government’s Chief Secretary in charge of the Ministry of Health. The appointment of Chief Secretary Casten Nemra as Interim Secretary of Health through February 15 underlines the gravity of the problems at the ministry.

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W hen over a hundred Pacific island power utility officials meet for their annual conference in Majuro next year, they will see new heat recovery generators in action at the capital city’s power plant. Majuro is the first island in the Pacific to see an investment in waste-heat-to-power equipment by General Electric’s Power and Water Heat Recovery Solutions. An agreement signed at the beginning of September by Marshalls Energy Company and GE Power and Water Health Recovery Solutions officials paves the way for GE’s US$2.4 million investment at the Majuro utility company’s main power station. It is not only GE’s first energy efficiency investment in the island region, it is the first United States company to invest in the Marshall Islands in decades.

The new equipment will reduce the utility’s fuel costs while cutting its carbon emissions, said Marshalls Energy Company General Manager David Paul. He touts the investment as a key demonstration that small islands can and should take steps to curb carbon emissions, even if the pollution generated by tiny population is miniscule by world standards. Paul says the deal will improve the utility company’s financial outlook, while showing the rest of the world that the Marshall Islands is taking steps to reduce pollution that is causing global warming.

The new system, expected to be up and running by early 2015, will: • Generate about 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year, which translates into potential electricity revenue of US$725,000 a year. • Result in reducing fuel use at the power plant of up to 100,000 gallons a year, a savings of over US$300,000 at current fuel prices. The U.S. company is financing the entire $2.4 million cost of equipment and installation, which will also involved Marshall Islands power plant engineers.

The utility will pay GE 85 percent of the fuel savings up to a maximum of $20,000 per month for the next 10 years. A key element of the deal is GE is guaranteeing performance of the system, with financial benefits to the Majuro utility if it under-performs.

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Islanders’ justice bill nears US$2.3 billion

When the Marshall Islands filed legal action in late April against nine nuclear nations at the International Court of Justice and against the United States in federal district court, it simultaneously stunned the world while sparking an outpouring of media reportage and comment. The filings also surprised almost everyone in the Marshall Islands, including many political leaders. The point of the legal actions at the ICJ against the United States, North Korea, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Israel, France, Russia, China, and India and in U.S. federal court against the U.S. government is to gain court declarations that these nuclear nations are in violation of disarmament obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Marshall Islands and its Foreign Minister, Tony deBrum, who described himself as a “co-agent” in the filings with the U.S.- based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, have received widespread praise from the global anti-nuclear movement. The latest expression of support came in early August when the International Peace Bureau announced it will award its annual Sean MacBride Peace Prize for 2014 to the people and government of the Marshall Islands “for courageously taking the nine nuclear weapons-possessing countries to the International Court of Justice to enforce compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and international customary law.”

The filings have been more controversial at home. Rongelap Senator Kenneth Kedi, who represents the population most heavily affected by radioactive fallout from the 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini questioned the lack of consultation by the government with leaders of nuclear-affected atolls in the country and expressed concern that the lawsuits could negatively impact Rongelap efforts aimed at addressing compensation claims.

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