PALAU TO CLOSE GUAM, CNMI CONSULATES

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Budget cuts force December closings

By Zita Y. Taitano HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Nov. 10, 2009) - The Palau State office has notified the island nation’s consular offices on Guam and in the CNMI that because of stringent cuts in the 2010 fiscal year budget that both offices will be shuttered on Dec. 31.

Variety spoke with Palau minister of state Sandra Pierantozzi, who explained the Palau National Congress only provided enough funding for half of the fiscal year for the two offices in its recent budget act. The CNMI received only US$20,250 and Guam received US$42,500.

"However having said that, the president and I have written a request to our congress seeking to keep the Guam Consulate for the Palauans on Guam," she said. "Especially since Guam is the first port of entry for the residents."

The military buildup, she said, is among the reasons to push congress to keep the consulate offices open. As for the CNMI, the future is bleak, but she said they are going to attempt to do the same.

"We see Guam as the possible conduit in economic benefits and with the military buildup on Guam; we hope to help our people find jobs there," Pierantozzi said.

Other considerations the minister of state cited as reason for continued operation of consular functions is the strong Palauan student presence at the University of Guam, the region’s only fully-accredited university.

"We also send people to Guam for medical referrals and we need our consulate office there to help them. There are a bunch of fundamental reasons," Pierantozzi offered, adding, "But we cannot always control what the legislative branch does."

The closure of the office is not sitting well with leaders of the Palau Community Association. Palau Community Association public information officer Paka Remengesau said they were surprised to learn of the planned closure.

Remengsau said the group had met with senators from Palau and were informed the consulate office would not be shut down.

The community spokeswoman also found it troubling that President Johnson Toribiong would promise to not close the office and then go back on that commitment.

"I’m surprised that they’re not keeping their words," she said. "We’re kind of hanging and waiting to see what’s next. Our concern is we really will be sad that we won’t have a Palau flag flying at the office, and also if there is a disaster, there is no way for the Palauans to get help."

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