Palau Congress paves way for Blue Prosperity funding

Aerial view of Palau (Photo: Supplied)

Members of the Olbiil Era Keluau Monday adopted amendments to the supplemental budget to pave way for the Blue Prosperity funding assistance, while Palau Congress gave approval to the marine spatial planning.

The new version ensures that the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) remains as is pending the final report and recommendations from the spatial planning exercise.

The OEK version also did not amend PNMS ACT nor agreed to remove the administration of PNMS from PICRC. The compromise also removed the language authorising the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and  Environment Minister to allow licensing of  “experimental fishing” in the PNMS as part of spatial planning “study.”

“The implementation of the marine spatial planning is a condition of receiving the Blue Prosperity Funding assistance.”

It also said the planning would provide scientific data on managing the PNMS best, and it has agreed that other amendments proposed about PNMS should be tackled another time.

The lawmakers, however, acknowledged a need to pass a supplemental budget to meet the budgetary demands of the country, including an increase in their budgets.

The supplemental budget bill also included US$200K to Olbiil Era Kelulau, split with US$100K to the Senate and US$100K to the House of Delegates.  Local revenue is the identified source of funding for this increase

Last week, Rubekul Belau urged members of the Senate to allow for “meaningful consultation on the supplemental bill that contains amendments to the Palau National Marine Sanctuary ( PNMS).

A letter to Senate President Hokkons Baules and senators Rukebai Inabo and Umiich Sengebau urged the removal of the proposed PNMS changes in the bill.

“While there is a need for supplementing budget for state governments and other government entities,  we do not need to put PNMS as a rider as there is no urgency for marine spatial planning and we do have funds as the Senate indicated.”

Earlier, the Senate passed FY 2022 Supplemental budget bill appropriating a US$2.6 million grant to fund specific government operations but voted to remove the riders that would amend the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act.

While the Senate has approved the Blue Prosperity Plan of the president, it did not give its green light to PNMS amendments.

The Council of Chiefs echoed the Senate’s earlier position that a proper consultation process should be made first on the PNMS changes.

The Chiefs said PNMS was a product of the collaboration of various community sectors, including the traditional leaders and the grassroots.

“With the magnitude of this legislation, it is only right to be transparent and inclusive of the entire leadership and community,” the letter further added US$1.8 million out of the US$2.6 million grant funding from international organizations, Funding from The Nature Conservancy, Neo Terra, and Conservation International was appropriated to fund various programs in education, marine law enforcement, MAFE, and Palau Visitors Authority. 800K was divided among the 16 states using the fishing rights division formula.