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By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 11) - Nearly six years after joining the European Union’s Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau are still waiting for promised multi-million dollar funding to begin flowing.

Although the EU’s bureaucracy has proved time-consuming to navigate, a recently appointed EU official in the organization’s Fiji office says that funding will start shortly.

Malcolm Ponton, a EU official based in Suva, Fiji who is responsible for programs in these three north Pacific nations, said they are working on final details of the plan to release funding and also working on a plan for the next five years of EU funding, 2008 to 2012. Ponton was making his first visit to the north Pacific to meet with local officials since taking up his post in Suva earlier this year.

The EU has agreed to finance solar and other alternative energy equipment worth about US$10 million for these three nations. The main roadblock to releasing that money has now been removed with the recent establishment of a project management unit that will oversee the bidding (tender) process and awarding of supply contract, Ponton said.

In the Marshall Islands, close to US$3.5 million will be going to provide solar power systems to more than 500 households and many schools on remote islands. Ponton and Ministry of Finance assistant secretary Bruce Bilimon said they expect that following bidding and awarding of contracts, solar equipment will be available for installation by September 2007. Bids for the equipment are expected to be announced later this year, Ponton said.

In addition to funding solar equipment, the Marshall Islands government is focusing US$630,000 of its EU funding to strengthen non-governmental organizations in the country. Ponton said the Marshall Islands government has already endorsed a plan for the Marshall Islands Council of NGOs to oversee a major capacity building project, and the EU is expected to approve release of this funding before the end of 2006.

Ponton also pointed out that the EU rewards good performance. Since all EU funding to the ACP countries is put into a common pot, if others don’t use it, funding can be increased to the countries that are effectively implementing their projects, he said

September 12, 2006

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