Mar 26, 2017 Last Updated 12:15 AM, Mar 15, 2017

Growth masks Palau’s flaws

ADB highlights setback in policy enforcement.

TOURISM continues to be Palau’s bread and butter and a contributed to its economic growth for the past two years but a recent private sector assessment by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says that the country’s strength masks several pressing issues.

The assessment result which has been the result of consultation with the private sector stated, “Palau has registered 2 years of substantial economic growth and per capita income has risen to slightly in excess of $16,000, the second highest in the Pacific region. Yet the strong performance of the economy masks some pressing issues, particularly with respect to the tourism industry.”

It added that aside from tourism industry, Palau has pressing issues with its foreign investment policies, state-owned enterprise efficiency, access to finance and tax laws. Paul Holden, ADB’s Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PDSI) lead economist who presented the report at the Palau Chamber of Commerce weeks ago, said that all laws and policies cannot make a difference in making changes unless enforcement is worked on.

Holden said although there is a proliferation of front businesses, getting rid of these businesses would be bad for the economy as they provide a service in Palau especially in the tourism industry. The report also pointed out that in spite of the strong economic performance, a number of pressing problems face Palau,” which will require strategic policy decisions that will impact both the economy and society”. 

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IN the far west of the northern Pacific, a single patrol boat stands against the waves of Distant Water Fishing Nation vessels which threaten the region’s fish stocks. Outnumbered and outgunned, the President Remelik will soon be replaced by a state of the art Australian ship complemented by a Japanese patrol vessel. But coming out of the west every day are fishing boats from as far afield as Myanmar and Vietnam who pillage the waters of the northern and south-western Pacific. Conservative estimates place the losses to the region through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at 306,440 tonnes worth anywhere between US$152.67million and US$616m. Palau’s Fisheries Minister, Urich Sengebau, says pirate vessels take four-five per cent of this catch – that is 11,000 tonnes worth about $20m.

The northern Pacific republic punches well above its weight in terms of ocean security and conservation. In October 2015, Palau passed a law converting 80 per cent of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary, prohibiting commercial fishing, oil drilling, and seabed mining. “To provide alternative livelihoods for affected households, the government will promote ecotourism,” Sengebau said. “And we will charge a new environmental impact fee to replace lost revenues from banning commercial fishing in Palau.” Every traveller through Palau’s airports and wharves is charged $20 upon departure and this is channelled to government revenue. The country was forced to take the action after the Asian Development Bank projected that fishing licenses in Palau would decline by 8.5 per cent with the creation of the country’s Marine Sanctuary.

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A PROLONGED drought blamed on the El Nino weather system has dropped water levels to an even critical threshold at the remaining reservoir that the National Emergency Committee (NEC) fears that without rain the reservoir will run dry in the coming weeks. “Palau Public Utilities Corporation (PPUC) estimates that based on the current water level and usage rates and assuming conditions persists unabated, a total water outage is likely to occur in the next two to three weeks,”

NEC chairman Antonio Bells said in an April 1 letter to President Remengesau. President Remengesau as a result of the NEC’s advise sought an extension of the State of Emergency declaration which lapsed April 2 but lack of quorum in the Senate ended the state of emergency on a technicality.

NEC said that although it has been a productive 10 days with the state of emergency being utilised to identify existing wells, procure equipment to address water shortage, an extension of the declaration is necessary to “adequately implement measures tailored to mitigating this ongoing crisis and make reasonable preparations for a total water outage.”

Press Secretary Olkeriil Kazuo said that one water well will be operational this week stating that tests of the water was needed to be done before its allowed to be used. Kazuo however said that the water to be produced by the well would still be too little to lift water use restrictions.

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Safe no more

ON Oct. 11, Palau was shocked after a 37-year old government employee was found dead on the street in the capital of Koror. Kenneth Koshiba was shot with a gas-powered air rifle. This kind of violence is not a usual occurrence in Palau since the country has a strict law against gun possession with the last gun-related death reported in 1988.

Although air rifles is not illegal in Palau but airguns are usually used to hunt pigeons and birds. “I am shocked and it is unfortunate that things resorted to violence,” Remengesau told a press conference in the wake of the killing in October. Three men – Nicholas Kloulubak, Clifton Kloulubak and Michael Williams were charged with second-degree murder.

A few days after on Oct, 21, three suspected robbers attacked two Bangladeshi employees of a store in Malakal with a hammer. The two employees suffered injuries with one succumbing to death as a result of the beating. Until now, no arrest has been made as the suspects as seen in the surveillance images released to the media are covered in long sleeves, long pants, shoes and mask.

Both crimes were suspected to involve the use of drugs and now the feedback in the community is that Palau which is known, as an underwater haven is no longer safe with the presence of illegal drugs.

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Not counting the 400 or so volcano-uplifted little limestone islands that make up the spectacular Rock Islands, Palau is small. With a population of 21,000 living in the islands’ 16 states, the island republic does live up to the Greek meaning of the name of the cultural grouping it belongs to, that of Micronesia. However being tiny does not matter when it comes to marine conservation or in the protection of the environment. In fact in the sphere of sustainable development, the republic of Palau is a giant.

Consider this: In 2003, long before marine conservation became fashionable, Palau put into place a very innovative plan to protect the islands’ fragile biodiversity. Each private owner of land, a community or state can apply to be part of the Protection Area Network, agreeing to work towards conserving their natural resources in their demarcated protected areas.

In 2005, two years later, Palau took the lead in establishing the Micronesian Challenge. This initiative announced on November 5, 2005 by Palau President Tommy E Remengesau Jnr aims to conserve at least 30 per cent of near-shore marine resources and 20 per cent of the terrestrial resources. It was a hard act to follow and in no time, neighbour Micronesian countries of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and the American territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas have joined the Micronesia Challenge. Put together, this means a combined region of nearly 5 per cent of the marine area of the Pacific Ocean and 7 per cent of its total coastline. Not so long after, indeed three months later, Palau raised the conservation bar, yet again. This time President Remengesau in March 2006 signed into law a ban against bottom trawling in Palau waters.

Indeed, this ban also covers citizens of Palau who may be involved in this type of destructive fishing anywhere in the world. Offenders face both civil and criminal penalties. “We are legislating out of a responsible concern for our seas and seabed and their vulnerable coral habitats and deep water fishstocks.” Palau’s President said then. “If these measures are good enough for our own waters, what is the excuse for so disrespecting the waters beyond? It is time now to bridge the gap for the deep seas.”

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