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By Malou L. Sayson

KOROR, Palau (January 4, 1999 - Palau Horizon/Marianas Variety)---The 5th Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK) is inching its way into changing the nearly two-decade old Palau Constitution by pushing for a unicameral form of government in 1999.

Congress has expressed its intention at introducing a bill which would change the present bicameral Congress in the hope of splicing off the bureaucratic fat which has weakened the economic muscles of the country.

In an interview, leaders of Congress over the weekend said there is a serious move at the OEK towards changing the form of government and that would all start early this year.

"We might as well bite the bullet and do it," said Senate President Isidoro Rudimch undauntedly.

The same position was echoed by House Speaker Ingancio Anastacio, who said that one of their legislative priorities would be introducing some amendments to the Palau Constitution.

"We are discussing how we could come up with the resolution by (this) year," said Anastacio. Said resolution would be subject to "vox populi (voice of the people) in a referendum that will coincide with the national elections in November 2000.

The two leaders said the transformation is a matter of "economics."

"This is too small a nation to have a bicameral form of government," said Rudimch, as he stressed the exigency of belt-tightening as the country speeds its way into being a self-sufficient economy far from the pampered image under the Compact of Free Association with the United States.

Rudimch is looking at two options to better implement austerity measures in the government, especially in the legislative body.

According to Rudimch, they have two options -- either to considerably reduce the salary of the members of the OEK or reduce the number of its members.

The shift to a unicameral form of government, Rudimch said, should have been addressed long ago, when the country obtained its independence.

"This is a very small island nation with a very small population of 15,000 (Palauans) to have a bicameral form of government," said Rudimch as he pointed out that, in the present system, there are 30 legislators representing the country’s 16 states. Some of these states are sparsely inhabited.

Early in 1999, according to the Senate President, there will be public hearings in all states on the issue as part of the process of adopting a resolution which will be subject to a referendum.

Guam, a United States territory with 150,000 population according to Rudimch, reduced its Senate members from 21 to 15. "How much more with Palau, which has a staggering 15,000 local population?" he asked.

Ingancio, however, is pushing for a unicameral system wherein the president would be elected from among the members of the legislative body.

But Rudimch differed with the opinion of the House speaker, saying that Palau could not afford to have a president not elected by the people themselves.

"In the absence of a political body, it is better for the president to be elected by the people," Rudimch said.

"This is going to be the main issue (in) 1999 and we are serious about implementing belt-tightening measures in the government," he added.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Marianas Variety.

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