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Projects include water plant and USP campus

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, May 30, 2008) – The Marshall Islands is seeking Japan funding for two multi-million dollar infrastructure projects in a move to get Japanese infrastructure development funding flowing again after a nearly two-and-half year hiatus.

The two projects submitted to Japan for review are a $7 million plan for water infrastructure on Ebeye, the country’s second largest urban center, and remote outer atolls of Wotje and Jaluit, and a plan for a new University of the South Pacific campus in Majuro at an estimated cost of more than $11 million.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency is now reviewing the projects, but has not yet formally endorsed them, according to an official in the government’s cabinet.

Japan infrastructure aid has been stymied for more than two years because a $10 million water reservoir plan for Majuro, approved in the mid-2000s and supposed to start in 2006, was opposed by some local landowners, and Japan refused to move forward without their consent.

The Marshall Islands government and the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific signed an agreement several years ago for USP to establish its first campus in the north Pacific in Majuro, with the government to fund building costs and USP to pay for operations once the campus is built. USP currently operates an extension center in Majuro.

But the USP campus plan never rose to a top priority for funding under the previous government, which focused on the College of the Marshall Islands as it was then in danger of losing its U.S. accreditation. But President Litokwa Tomeing’s government, which came into power in January, has elevated the USP plan to the top of the list.

The cabinet official said the Marshall Islands is hoping to return to an earlier system with JICA in which several infrastructure projects are in development simultaneously, so that as one project is completed another immediately follows to avoid gaps in between big projects.

Japan funded a three-year $13 million road-paving project that finished in 1999 and a two-year $9 million hospital extension facility that finished in early 2006. These are the only large infrastructure projects that Japan has funded, though the Marshall Islands is eligible for a large scale infrastructure projects on an annual basis provided those projects are processed through JICA’s rigorous review and implementation schedule, the official said.

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