FRENCH LEADER BACKS TAHITI DEVELOPMENT PLAN

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, July 6) Р"We saw a prime minister completely in favor of the projects agreement," French Polynesia Government President Gaston Tong Sang said on Friday following his meeting with Fran̤ois Fillon in Paris.

Tong Sang and his delegation from Tahiti met for an hour with the French prime minister, concluding a week in Paris that involved meetings with four of Fillon's ministers, all of whom publicly gave enthusiastic support for a proposed development project agreement.

However, a scheduled meeting Friday morning with French President Nicolas Sarkozy was postponed until Monday morning. No reason was given by the Tong Sang delegation for the postponement.

Tong Sang told the French prime minister how much he appreciated the quality of the welcome he and his delegation received from the French ministers. The members of the Tahiti delegation feel they visited the Fillon government's most important ministers. They were Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux, Education Minister Xavier Darcos, and Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. They also met with some secretaries of state and parliamentary political officials.

After Monday morning's scheduled meeting with President Sarkozy, Tong Sang and his delegation are to meet with Housing Minister Christine Boutin and Health, Youth and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

Fillon was aware of Tong Sang's request for a special session of the French Polynesia Assembly to debate the proposed projects agreement. Tahiti's president also indicated he wants the French Polynesia Economic, Social and Cultural Council to also debate the proposed agreement.

"I want all of French Polynesia to get behind this projects agreement," Tong Sang said. The agreement is scheduled to be signed by his government and the French state before the end of the year.

In Tahiti, the Tong Sang government has provided copies of its proposed development project agreement with the French state to the French Polynesia Assembly and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council, the Council of Ministers announced Wednesday.

The proposal defines the joint operations to be undertaken in French Polynesia's development from 2008-2012 in four major areas—welfare housing, public health, major public works projects and higher education and research.

The proposed overall budget is 52 billion French Pacific francs (US$607.5m/€435.76m).

The state and the French Polynesia government are each to provide up to 21 billion French Pacific francs (US$245.3m/€176m) in financing over the five-year period. The remaining some nine billion French Pacific francs (US$105m/€75.42m) is to come from other financial sources, such as loans at specially reduced interest rates from the French Development Agency (A.F.D.), the European Development Fund (F.E.D.) and the Inter-Communal Equalization Fund (F.I.P.).

Following Friday's meeting with the French prime minister, Tong Sang announced that Fillon:

--Agreed to begin work on a proposed French parliamentary law programming various projects over the five-year life of the agreement. This will involve French Interior and Overseas Minister Alliot-Marie working with the Tong Sang government. The proposed law will deal with taxation and tax exemption. It will also include the continuation of the global economic development grant, which up until now has been a separate agreement aimed at ensuring the restructuring of Tahiti's economy.

--Sees no particular problems with French Polynesia replacing the French Pacific franc with the euro after some obstacles are removed. The main precondition for such a change in the monetary system is the acceptance of the euro by all three French overseas territories in the Pacific—French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna. Tong Sang said he plans to visit Nouméa next month. "It is historically necessary to create strong ties with New Caledonia," he said.

--Agreed to opening a calm discussion of the controversial subject of the salaries of French civil service employees in French Polynesia, who are paid the same base salary as in France plus a multiplier coefficient. The French civil service payroll in French Polynesia is an integral part of Tahiti's economy, Tong Sang noted. "So we cannot change the rules of the game overnight," he said, adding, "The prime minister completely agrees."

Meanwhile, Tong Sang once again said that for him, there's no doubt that "we are turning a new page in the history of French Polynesia, and the prime minister agrees with me."

For Tong Sang, that means turning the "nuclear page" once and for all, putting the 30-year-history of French nuclear testing in French Polynesia in the past and moving on to an economic development of the future.

Tong Sang sees French Polynesia's future as a showcase for France and its know-how at the technology and cultural level. French Polynesia must become a land where the economic development has one direction, enabling Tahiti to contribute to France's wealth, he said.

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