MARSHALLS: US COMPACT IS NO 'WELFARE' DEAL

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (June 25, 1999 - Marianas Variety)---As renegotiations of a long-term economic and security treaty between the United States and the Marshall Islands loom, the country’s foreign secretary said there needs to be an attitude change in order for Marshall Islanders to design an agreement that will meet emerging economic needs of the nation.

"People need to understand that the Compact is not a welfare agreement," Foreign Secretary Marie Maddison said. "We need an attitude change. We are self-governing. We need to act like we’re looking after ourselves."

This is why it is essential that the Compact renegotiations fit into a Marshall Islands plan for the future, she said. "The Compact should fall within a national long-term plan, as does aid from other countries – instead of the Compact driving national planning," she said.

Economic provisions of the current 15-year Compact with the U.S. expire in 2001 and renegotiations are scheduled to start this October on a new pact. During the first 15 years, the U.S. has provided close to $1 billion to the Marshall Islands in exchange for use of the Kwajalein missile testing range and for nuclear test compensation. Maddison described the Compact as a government-to-government pact that is "compensating the Marshall Islands for what we’re giving up to the U.S."

The government and community need to consider the roles of international donor countries and agencies, including the U.S., and how they fit into the overall picture for future development here, she said, "instead of just jumping at funding or to demands from the outside."

This is a key reason that the government is working on establishing a Commission on Sustainable Development to help implement a longer-term planning process, she indicated.

Currently, the Foreign Ministry is spearheading a national review of the Compact and its programs as a lead-up to the start of talks between the Marshalls and the U.S. This review includes meeting with individual government ministries, preparation of papers on federal programs by ministries, and a look at the public sector investment program and community needs, she said.

"We’re putting together a team for Compact review under our U.S. Affairs section," she said. This unit within Foreign Affairs will support the ongoing review and a task force that is to coordinate the assessment before talks with the U.S. begin.

Various ministries, including those with heavy reliance on U.S. federal programs, such as the Ministry of Education, are preparing detailed reports on the U.S. federal programs to assess what’s worked and what hasn’t, she said.

Maddison doesn't believe that it will take long for the Marshall Islands to establish its negotiating position. "The general ideas are there," she said. "People know what they want. Now it's a matter of getting a national consensus, especially in the Nitijela (parliament)."

She is hopeful that in the August session, the Nitijela will hold discussions on national directions for the next 15 years to help develop a national consensus.

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