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By Agnes M. Abrau

KOROR, Palau (Palau Horizon, Oct. 27) – Palau’s national legislature, the Olbiil Era Kelulau, has passed the fiscal year 2006 budget bill amounting to $55,697,779.

A conference committee drafted the measure, which will now be transmitted to President Tommy Remengesau for approval.

Under the conference committee version, the presidential reprogramming authority will only be limited to the executive branch.

The earlier version passed by the House of Delegates rejected the president’s proposal to allow him to access funds appropriated to independent agencies, boards and commissions.

The House said that the independence and autonomy of these agencies could be compromised if the president is allowed access to their funds.

According to their report, the conferees said they agreed with House version, adding that government agencies need to maintain independence from the executive branch to function properly.

They said that if these independent agencies or boards require additional funding, it can be addressed in a supplemental budget act.

Another amendment proposed involves the Office of the Special Prosecutor.

It stated that the special prosecutor should be appointed for a maximum and non-renewable term of four years.

The special prosecutor can be removed from office by a majority vote of the members of each house of Olbiil Era Kelulau.

Remengesau earlier objected to any amendment of the OSP’s terms of contract and responsibilities.

The conferees also agreed on the necessity of requiring parents to subsidize the cost of the food service program of the Ministry of Education.

The budget bill they passed would allow the ministry to collect subsidy payments from parents for the food program.

The lawmakers have until Oct. 31 to pass a new budget for fiscal year 2006, which started on Oct. 1.

The OEK approved a 30-day continuing resolution after both houses failed to pass the FY 2006 budget on or before Oct. 1.

The conference committee’s version of the budget bill suggested merging the Manila medical referral office and the Embassy of Palau in the Philippine capital "for purposes of efficiency and effectiveness of functions and responsibilities."

The bill also required the minister of health to provide a feasibility and desirability study for the president to buy or sell buildings in Manila and Honolulu, where Palau also has an office.

For state block grants and state CIPs, the conferees agreed with most of the budget levels set by the House for the states with the exception of those for Koror, Hatohobei and Sonsorol, whose funding levels will remain at those set by the Senate.

The new budget bill, moreover, placed additional responsibilities on Palau Visitors Authority which would be tasked to promote and develop the Pacific island nation’s tourism.

The lawmakers reinstated the House’s proposal to appropriate $450,000 for the reclassification of the Public Service System, giving in to the request of government employees for an increase in the Cost of Living Allowance or COLA.

The conferees also authorized $2 million for the Pension Plan Trust Fund which they tasked to reserve funds and identify new sources of funding for the retirees’ pensions and COLA.

Lawmakers at the same time added $50,000 for the Palau Severely Disabled Assistance Fund.

October 27, 2005

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