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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Aug. 5) - Health and
education ministry officials in the Marshall Islands are in an uproar about the
proposed fiscal year 2004 budget, saying it does not demonstrate government
leaders’ repeated public statements that health and education are the top
priorities of this central Pacific nation.

With funding from the United States through an amended Compact
of Free Association set to increase dramatically for these two ministries in
2004, the Ministry of Finance’s budget committee — with cabinet approval —
has slashed funding from local revenues to these two ministries. The net result,
according to health and education officials, is that their total budgets will be
at the same levels as this year.

"We can’t tolerate this," said Education Minister
Wilfred Kendall. "We’re telling the world that education is not a

"If health is a priority," asked hospital
administrator Sandy Alfred, "why are we taking the basis of our existence
— local tax revenues — and giving it to other ministries?"

An amended Compact of Free Association is set to go into effect
on Oct. 1 for a new 20-year funding period. U.S. and Marshall Islands
negotiators agreed that the level of funding in the new Compact for health and
education would increase significantly. But the government’s budget committee
has seen this as an opportunity for the Marshall Islands to reduce its own
internal budget support for these two ministries.

In the current year’s budget, Majuro Hospital alone received
$3.2 million from local tax revenues. But the proposed 2004 budget has reduced
local tax revenue money for the entire Ministry of Health to just $1.3 million,
Alfred said.

"The budget doesn’t reflect what (government leaders)
have been saying," Alfred said.

The proposed 2004 budget will leave health at the about the same
level as 2003, he said. "We’ll be losing ground (with this budget),"
he said.

Kendall said if the 2004 budget isn’t changed for education,
the ministry will not have the money needed to meet salary increases for
teachers who have been reclassified to bring them into line with Public Service
Commission pay scale requirements.

Economic Policy, Planning and Statistics Office director Carl
Hacker in a letter to President Kessai Note was blunt: "The proposed FY
2004 budget says that we, the government, do not place a high priority on health
and education, because we are not willing to expend our own resources on these
two sectors."

Hacker said the Marshall Islands was one of four Pacific nations
whose living standards declined in the last 10 years. The proposed budget
"will do little to halt or arrest this decline in human development,"
he said.

August 5, 2003

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