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By Giff Johnson For Variety

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 28, 2002 – Marianas Variety)---Marshall Islands investments in the United States have suffered huge losses as the American stock market continues its nosedive.

Bikini Atoll’s resettlement trust fund — provided by the U.S. Congress to assist with nuclear test rehabilitation — has lost 29 percent of its value over its peak two years ago, and the government’s Social Security’s retirement investment fund lost 26 percent from its first quarter total.

From a height of $136 million in March 2000, the Bikini resettlement trust fund has plummeted to $96.5 million as of early last week.

Four nuclear test affected islands — Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrik — together with a nuclear claims compensation fund and the government’s Social Security program are among other agencies with multi-million dollar investments in the U.S. stock market.

"Everything’s gone to hell with no end in sight," is the way Bikini trust liaison Jack Niedenthal described the Wall Street losses on Wednesday.

Widespread corporate misdoings and fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have been a crippling combination for Wall Street, Niedenthal said.

Bikini’s American money manager is recommending that the Bikini Council limit its annual withdrawals from the fund to no more than nine percent of the total current market value — or less than $9 million.

Niedenthal said that the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 is going to be a tough belt-tightening year for the Bikini Council, which in recent years has been operating on annual budgets in the $12 million range.

Since 1986, when the U.S. began providing nuclear test compensation to Marshall Islanders, the four nuclear test affected atolls have been investing funds in U.S. stocks and bonds in order to fund long term nuclear clean up programs at their islands and to provide ongoing compensation to test affected islanders.

Social Security’s investments also fell dramatically. At the end of the first quarter in 2002, the fund stood at $29.7 million. Last Tuesday, the fund had declined to $22 million, according to Social Security administrator Saane Aho.

She said that the agency’s local investments in Bank of Marshall Islands had helped to stabilize the fund to a degree, though the several million dollars invested at the local bank is small compared to the stock market investments.

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

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