RMI PRESIDENT DELIVER STATE OF THE NATION SPEECH

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Jan. 6, 2011) – Traditional Leaders of the Marshall Islands and Members of the Council of Iroij, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice Speaker, Honorable Members of the Cabinet, Honorable Members of the Nitijela, Reverend Enja Enos, Nitijela Chaplain and other Spiritual Leaders, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Chief Judge and members of the Judiciary, Chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, Chief Secretary, Ministerial Secretaries, Head of Departments and State-owned Enterprises, Members of the Business Community and Non-governmental organizations, my fellow citizens:

Good Morning to each and everyone one of you and Happy New Year.

I pay homage to our Heavenly Father for giving us this day to meeting amongst family, friends, and colleagues to gather our thoughts and reinforce our spirits as we meet the New Year with collective actions and renewed determination. I also wish to unite all of us in prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty for His protection all the hands and crew on board the M/V Jaljalet Ae were rescued and are being treated at the Majuro Hospital.

I take this special opportunity to renew our respect and gratitude to the mother of our nation, Lejla Emlain Kabua. We hold with high respect and utmost gratitude the memory of our founding father, Late President Iroilaplap Amata Kabua and once more convey our sincere appreciation to Lejla Emlain Kabua and the family for their invaluable contribution to the establishment and development of our modern day Republic. I also wish to renew my deep respect and appreciation to former President Iroijlaplap Imata J. Kabua and Lejla Hiromi Kabua, former President Kessai H. Note and First Lady Mary Note, and former President Iroij Litokwa Tomeing and Lejla Arlin Tomeing. Without the vision, determination, and courage of our past leaders, this nation would not be where it is today.

I salute your astute leadership, that of the Vice Speaker, as well as each honorable members of this Nitijela, and I look forward to seeing much development in the working environment of this august body and to these offices belonging to the people.

Just over a year ago, my colleagues in this Nitijela elected me to take over the administration of our beloved Marshall Islands. My colleagues in the Cabinet and I came to lead your government amid great political uncertainty and bickering. We were charged to change the direction from obstructive politics and take this country towards a path of political trusts and harmony. A change that would advance the cause of democracy and renew our faith in the political institutions even as we take on the taunting development challenges our country faces.

As part of that charge, I did away with the style of politics that mistook democratic transfer of power as an opportunity to wreak vengeance. I took a different political path to rekindled and strengthen the belief in ourselves and in our nation - the same kind of belief that was laid out for this and future generations to come by the founders of our young country. I am confident that we will continue to work with one another in this same spirit of cooperation as we begin this New Year in this 32nd session of the Nitijela.

Mr. Speaker, in my ‘State of the Nation’ Address last year, I promised to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness, respect and courtesy in our national discussion and debate. Today as your President, I stand before you and say "The State of the Nation is improving, and together we are making some headway"

If I am to be tempted to indulge in a bit of sloganeering and compare the situation of the Marshall Islands today to when I assumed the Presidency, I can confidently say "So far much better"

I must also say that there is still a huge amount of work to be done and you can be sure that your President and his team are fully committed to ensuring that your government is responsive to the needs of the people.

I would like to, if I may, touch more specifically on some of the insignificant changes that we have introduced in the last twelve months and to set before you the policies that we shall follow in the years ahead. This 32nd session will bring to an end the four year elective term of the membership of this Nitijela and at the end of this term later in the year, the Marshallese voters will judge us for what we have achieved in the past four years by freely exercising their civic duties in electing their representatives to this their highest law making body the Nitijela.

It is my fervent hope that this atmosphere of unfettered free speech will be enjoyed responsibly and received openly and with respect among every Marshallese. It is also my prayer that all members of Nitijela whatever their ideology or persuasion will have a sense of fairness and balance in our discussions, debates and arguments.

Nobody has a monopoly of either vision or wisdom and we will take honest criticism in good faith. We will work together to fashion out the appropriate policies that will help our island nation face and overcome the many challenges in these times of great uncertainty. When we see constructive criticism from whatever source we will take it on board. We shall learn and add to what is working and we will change course when it is in the national interest to do so. And in all our undertakings, I will be guided by a principle I have long cherished - to always strive to make a right decision rather than a quick decision.

Our country is still recovering from the severe effects resulted from the 2008 increased in prices of fuel and food. It has been two years since the price shocks and the attending crisis and its impact was so severe, and, frankly because we entered that period without the fiscal reserves that we would have needed to weather the storm, we were required to ask for substantial support to augment our own efforts. Many of our development partners provided timely responses to our calls for assistance. At this time, I would like to, once again, acknowledge their assistance. The Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Asian Development Bank through its own resources and the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, the Government of Japan directly through non-project grant, the Government of the United States for both flexibility and advances of Compact funding, the Government of Australia and the European Union. Their willingness to respond even when the global crisis was affecting everyone, and perhaps more importantly the timeliness of the responses to our country’s call for help, is most welcomed and has been the contributing factor to significantly mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis.

Today, I wish to emphasize to you, honorable members of the Nitijela and the Marshallese people that even though the period of crisis has, for the most part, passed, many of the negative impacts both financial and social remain as lasting reminders that we must act responsibly as a nation to prepare ourselves better for the unavoidable shocks that will, we can all be certain, affect us again and again on a periodic basis. To this end, I wish to highlight the following key objectives that this government is pursuing:

1. Creation of ongoing fiscal surpluses, at a measured pace, to enable us to restore fiscal reserves that may be needed to respond to periodic shocks; reduce our excessive external debt burden, including both official debt to development partners and loan guarantees on behalf of State-Owned Enterprises; and contribute to our long term fiscal sustainability by addressing the large currently projected shortfall of the RMI Compact Trust Fund,

2. Rationalize core government services to eliminate redundancies, reduce inefficiencies, expand service areas currently under-funded, and make room for emerging obligations as we continue to integrate ourselves within the global economy,

3. Improve policies with respect to our State-Owned Enterprises to reduce the risk they represent to our fiscal balance and to ensure they are better prepared themselves to respond to external shocks, and, and

4. Improve the efficiency, and ultimately the fairness, of our tax and revenue systems so that they are as supportive of private sector growth as possible, while also growing as a share of Gross Domestic Product to reduce our level of dependence on external aid and transfers.

I wish to highlight just some key areas that relate to budget discipline and key elements of our expenditure and revenue reform plans. With respect to budget discipline, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 budget for our general fund represented a 5 percent reduction from the FY 2009 level. There were no supplemental budget actions for the general fund for all of FY 2010 which ended on September 30, 2010. Our current budget, for Fiscal Year 2011, represents a further cut of 5.5 percent. These reductions have been absorbed by the various Ministries with considerable difficulty and I anticipate that further cuts as we move forward on a more targeted approach in order to avoid more detrimental impacts on essential service delivery. The result of our consecutive budget reductions is that in both FY2010 and Fiscal Year 2011 we have been able to budget fully for our substantial external debt burden as well as achieving a surplus of US$1.4 million for Fiscal Year 2011 which is targeted for deposit in the Republic of Marshall Islands Compact Trust Fund.

The Minister of Finance will provide a more comprehensive and detailed report on our national reform agenda and the work being undertaken to date; including, introduction of some legislation that are vital in augmenting this reform agenda. I look forward to working and seek the support of every members of this Nitijela in this regard.

Health and education continue to be our government’s top priorities. While modest improvements have been made in the areas of health and education, we have not achieved a record of steady and sustainable progress. In both sectors, many of our challenges can be met through the support of improved facilities, better and increased numbers of licensed, trained staff and further collaboration with our education and health professionals who are at the forefront of these responsibilities.

In the area of health, it is crucial that we advance our experience-sharing and partnership with other hospitals in the region as well as with international health institutions and organizations to respond to immediate and expanding health threats.

And in education, I encourage parents to be more personally involved in the education of their children. Our young people are a primary resource of our nation and have a critical role to play in our island communities. This involvement does not stop at the family level, but must include a more proactive and focused approach from all stakeholders - government, traditional and community leaders, civil societies, churches and, of course, the youth themselves.

It is, therefore, for this very reason that the Government has worked, and will continue to work, to ensure policies meets their targeted objectives in public sector investment, especially in Education and Health, where in financial year 2010 a total of US$28,097,658 was allocated and expended from the Compact, Supplemental Education Grants and the Ebeye Special Needs.

The Ministers of Education and Health will also present to this Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands, a status report of the state of our education and health with a detailed overview of activities that will be undertaken by their respective Ministries in 2011.

The state of our fragile environment, particularly, the vulnerability of our island nation to climate change and other environmental factors continues to be of grave concern to all of us. It is in this regard that I want to underscore the importance of integrating environment in our social and economic development planning, as it is one of the critical pillars of sustainable development. I am encouraged to see that some our planning and implementation strategies are already underway through the Reimaanlok. I am also pleased to report that the government continues to be very proactive in the ongoing international negotiations on replacement for expiring provisions of the Kyoto Protocol that address climate change including our efforts to bring to the forefront of international attention the need for a climate fast track financing.

There is no doubt that climate change is the single most serious threat to our islands and our very existence. We will continue to implement the Micronesia Challenge, a sub-regional initiative to conserve and protect our valuable natural heritage our environment.

In assistance will provide to this Nitijela further details on our national efforts and activities being undertaken to conserve and protect our environment.

I am pleased to report to you, the Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands that final preparations are underway to begin phase 6 of the Amata Kabua International Airport Improvement Plan, namely; the road realignment and runway safety area improvement project. This phase of the project is expected to be around US$17 million. Also, final discussions are being held to formalize the bidding process to start at the end of February for the Majuro Hospital Redevelopment Project. Earmarked under the Compact for infrastructure development, for fiscal year 2010 is US$11,189,235 and fiscal year 2011 US$10,296,314, targeting government’s priorities of health and education.

The economic well-being of our Republic is dependent on the reliability, safety, and security of its physical infrastructure. However, the maintenance of our infrastructure is something that has concerned me for years. Frankly, the government does not have a good record in this regard. Since independence, our Republic has received hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid and grants to build our outer islands airfields, our roads, the bridge, power lines, street lights, sewers and other infrastructure. Is it because we did not pay for them that we have neglected to maintain them?

As your President, I tell you now that is going to change. I will emphasize a need to constantly monitor the state of our infrastructure and I will insist that the required amount of resources is set aside to perform the necessary maintenance and to purchase and maintain critical parts. We simply cannot continue on like this and expect the problem to disappear. It is costing the government, hence the people, more money to do major repair than regular periodic maintenance; especially, in light of our own natural environment and settings our infrastructures must be maintained regularly.

I call on every citizen to assist your Government in this regard. In the outer islands, our communities can do routine fillings and cleaning of airfields and roads. For those bigger maintenance works requiring use of heavy equipment or other sophisticated tools, I urge you to call the Ministry of Public Works or the agency responsible for its maintenance. If you do not know who to call or if after calling you do not see that your Government is following up to do what is necessary, I urge to call my office. I will personally follow up on the problem and make sure that it is addressed in a timely fashion. With regards to the great loss affecting our country with the sinking of the M/V Jaljalat Ae, I wish to inform you and the people of the Marshall Islands that my office will call for, as soon as possible, for a thorough review of our maritime safety standards and sea worthiness of all government owned ships.

The members of the Cabinet and I will continue to work with the Kwajalein Leadership to resolve the many outstanding issues relating to the deteriorating state of the basic infrastructures on Ebeye. There are plans in the pipeline to drastically overhaul and expand infrastructures for Ebeye and nearby communities. I am optimistic that we can arrive at an agreement that is acceptable to everyone in the next few weeks.

I am pleased to report that there has been some progress in the power generation and distribution provided by Marshalls Energy Company (MEC) here in Majuro as well as by Kwajalein Atoll Joint Utilities Resources in Ebeye. Since the implementation of the Recovery Plan, MEC is now heading towards some promising prospects, however, in the short run; there are still some challenges that must be overcome. MEC is not out of the hole yet, I, therefore, seek the continuing support of the Nitijela and my fellow citizens in progress this important work.

I am pleased to report also that we are making progress in other infrastructure development. The completion, last year, of the National Telecommunications Authority extension to the fiber optic links now brings to our islands high bandwidth connectivity. While harnessing the benefits of information technology in the face of lacking resources and skills, inadequate basic infrastructures, illiteracy, and prohibitive costs will not be easy; it is not impossible. Our broadband connectivity has taken us a step closer in bringing resources of the internet to every Marshallese. I urge all of us to maximize on this opportunity.

The Ministers of Public Works and Transportation and Communications will also present to this Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands, a status report of the nation’s physical infrastructures as well as an overview of activities that will be undertaken by their respective Ministries in 2011.

On the domestic front, we must also recognize that food prices are becoming less affordable to a growing segment of our population. We must therefore take whatever actions necessary to reduce these costs, both in the short and long-term. We must respond to this reality through the stimulation of competition in the market place and in the development of healthy and affordable domestic food products. Let us focus on increasing the use of local foods as a step in the right direction to food security. It is a healthy step.

For the Government’s part, I am pleased to report to the Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands that the preparatory phase of the food security and sustainable livelihood program has now started with the establishment of the Project Coordination Office in the Ministry of Resources and Development. I seek the continuing of the Nitijela in moving this important initiative forward.

This joint effort between the Government and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is expected to provide support to community and household investments on food production and livelihoods; develop national service provision capacity and facilities to support the food security; and establish a multi-country support on food security initiatives, addressing national capacity building, related issues of trade, climate change resilience and food safety. This timely collective approach to developing a concerted and practical food security focused program is imperative to address the food security and livelihood concerns in which our Republic and people faces today and into the future. Food security is not just a poverty issue; it is a much larger issue that involves the whole food system and affects every one of us in some way.

I am pleased to report that since the opening of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Office in Majuro early last year, our Republic, in close collaborations with the other 7 member countries of the PNA, had made great strides in the management of our collective fish stocks through closure of high seas pockets, extending of the ban of the fishing aggregating devices, imposition of the catch retention of all tunas, and 100 percent observer coverage on all purse seine vessels licensed to fish in PNA waters and the purse seine vessel day scheme.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands and the other 7 member countries of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement sit on a valuable fishery. The controls that are in place have put PNA countries in the driver’s seat. These measures are resulting in increased revenues from access arrangements, and also increased investments in all PNA members. I must stress that our collective achievements are being realized only because of enhanced co-operation amongst the 8 PNA countries as well as our joint willingness to be creative and innovative. As the host of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement headquarters, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is committed to further exploring ways and means for each PNA member country to maximize the economic opportunities from our fisheries.

The government continues to prioritize the development of our own domestic fisheries and aquaculture with the aim of ensuring that our citizens are empowered with the skills and resources to participate in commercial fisheries. The Minister of Resources and Development will provide to the Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands a detailed report of fisheries development and important activities relating to fisheries in our country.

The government has completed the initial phases to prepare for actual work on our national census. I want to emphasis that the census will provide us in the government with a comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of our people. Only a census can provide such complete detail. The census is not, however, an end in itself but rather the results are essential tools for effective policy, planning and decision making purposes. The greatest strength of the census is the provision of detailed population figures at each community in every atolls and islands. In the next few days and weeks, I wish to inform this Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands that the enumerators from the Economic Planning and Statistics Office will be visiting each of communities throughout the country. I urge everyone to participate in this important undertaking.

The government is committed to continuing its policy of strengthening international relations, especially on issues that are significant to our country and people. In the interest of time, allow me to highlight just a few of our international opportunities. In response to the growing needs of our citizens residing in the United States and its territories, our Embassy in Washington, D.C. and Consulates in Arkansas and Hawaii have been actively engaged and successful in our Citizens Orientation Program in Arkansas, Pacific Northwest, California and Hawaii. This program is being expanded to cover other large populations in the U.S. mainland, Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) where our citizens resides. It is my hope that this program will not only ease and lessen the burden of culture shock to our citizens, but more importantly, to enable our citizens to assimilate into their new homes in the United States as contributing members of that society.

Another aspect of our efforts for constructive engagement in the international community is through our country’s active participation and involvement in international meetings and conferences. For instance, the Republic of the Marshall Islands underwent its first ever comprehensive review of the human rights situation in the country late last year. Also, late last year, the government invited donor countries and multilateral institutions to yet another first ever development partners’ meeting focusing on the government’s home grown reforms and associated programs for the period 2011-2012. I must commend the extraordinary efforts and work in assisting in these important undertakings. I will not name names but I want to say that the nation owes each of you a debt of gratitude.

I hold this believe that in order to attend to the many needs of our country, we must start by working with our closer neighbors to identify sub-regional initiatives that will increase capacity, cut costs and increase our chances to respond to the issues facing our individual communities and island nation.

I therefore intend to become even more active in the Micronesian Chief Executives' Summit and the Micronesian Presidents' Summit to strengthen our capacity to be proactive to environmental issues, particularly through the Micronesia Challenge and other initiatives in the areas of energy, tourism, invasive species, telecommunications and solid waste management.

It is time that the islands of Micronesia stand together as a united front in the regional and international fore. We have much to gain working together and much at stake if we do not.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs will present this to Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands, a status report and general outlook of our foreign policy as well as an overview of activities that will be undertaken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011.

In moving forward, I wish to remind all of us that we have rough seas ahead of us. So much so that the meager resources made available to the government to provide essential services to the people are optimized. On the part of the government, I believe that success must begin with 'good governance', a government system that is fair, accountable, efficient, transparent and well planned. Achieving good governance is no doubt difficult, but I believe that this is our country's only course if we are to ensure that a solid base is firmly set for a future that is successful. In recent days, I have received reports relating to certain individuals who, through their positions in the government, embezzled large of amount of money for their personal gain. I will not go into more details as this is matter is now before the Court. But let me assure you, Mr. Speaker, this Nitijela and the people of the Marshall Islands, law enforcement agencies charged to investigate this crime will leave no stones unturned until everyone associated in this matter is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No one is above the law!

Last year when I took my oath as your President, I made a public pledge and that I give again to all of you now.

• My colleagues in the Cabinet and I will serve every Marshallese.

• My colleagues in the Cabinet and I will only offer to the Marshallese people what we firmly believe we can achieve.

May I now, Mr. Speaker, also invite all Members of this Nitijela and my fellow citizens to join me in creating hope, opportunity for everyone in the Marshall Islands. No government and certainly no particular grouping can carry our nation forward on its own. Political Parties, Businesses, and yes the media should at least be "Partners in Vision" in an open Democracy in which our people choose the way ahead and then work together to achieve it. Not everything is political!

The challenges that we face are challenges to every Marshallese and not just to one group and definitely not exclusively to the Government of the day. When love of country supersedes personal ideology and only then that, our beloved Marshall Islands, can grow and mature as a full participant in the 21st Century Global Village. May God bless us as we work together for our nation and as we work towards building a Marshall Islands that is secured and successful.

Our heritage and culture are part of what makes Marshallese distinct from other people. Mankind has been given the ability to develop complex and intelligent works of art; intellectual and scientific discoveries as well as spiritual achievements. However, each nation has gone about this in their own ways, ways that have grown and evolved to meet every changing needs and aspirations.

I thank you for the opportunity and your attention. May God continue to bless the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kommol tata.

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