Pohnpei Legislature Impeaches Governor Ehsa

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Tribunal to decide whether Ehsa will be removed from office

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Kaselehlie Press, July 1, 2015) – On June 16, 2015, the 19 present members of the Pohnpei State Legislature voted to impeach Gov. John Ehsa. The finalized official notice of impeachment was served on the governor on June 17.

It was expected that in compliance with the Pohnpei Constitution, Governor Ehsa would be relieved of his duties with pay pending judgment after the notice of impeachment was officially served by the Legislature.

Also it was expected that Lt. Gov. Marcello Peterson would serve as governor in an acting capacity until a judgment is delivered. But Governor Ehsa did not leave office after the impeachment notice was served on him which has led to speculation. One source says that the law is not explicitly clear on what entity should serve the official notice of impeachment and that the governor may be waiting for notice to come from the constitutionally mandated tribunal rather than the Legislature.

The Constitution says that the next step is for the Pohnpei Supreme Court Chief Justice to convene a tribunal of three justices. The tribunal will appoint a special prosecutor subject to the advice and consent of a majority of the Pohnpei State Legislature. A conviction of impeachment shall require the vote of two-thirds of the members of the tribunal.

A proposed resolution to impeach the governor was introduced in Feb. 2013 but languished in committee until April 30, 2015. It was amended to strike a few words that no longer applied and also to strike one of the articles in its entirety. The initially proposed resolution for Impeachment listed 19 articles. The resolution that was passed on June 16 contained 25 articles.

Articles 19 through 25 of the articles of impeachment document are the most recent allegations having to do with his alleged actions during the week of March 16 through 23. The Legislature says that during that time the governor took action at the Pohnpei Fisheries Corporation or PFC dock in Dekehtik, ignoring the legal advice of his attorney general who had reminded him that the FSM Supreme Court had issued an injunction on tenant Luen Thai’s behalf. He allegedly ordered officers of the Pohnpei State Department of Public Safety to lock up the premises in Dekehtik that Luen Thai had a contract with the government to rent and operate.

The articles said that the governor should have known that when he issued the directive to the Department of Public Safety not to allow national police officers onto the premises, he was putting DPS officers in harm’s way.

The governor’s alleged actions are the subject of both civil and criminal proceedings in the FSM Supreme Court.

The Legislature says that the Governor’s directives exposed Pohnpei employees to the same types of criminal charges that he is currently facing in the FSM Supreme Court.

The Attorney General’s Office withdrew as his counsel on the civil matter and cannot defend him on the criminal matter.

One of the governor’s last acts before he was to have been relieved of duty was to issue letters of termination to Pohnpei’s Attorney General Judah Johnny and to Joseph Saimon, administrator of the Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture both of whom have gone on record as opposing the governor’s actions at the PFC dock.

The letters were dated on the 16th but were not delivered until the next day. There remains a legal question of whether or not those termination notices have legal effect since they were delivered after the Legislature served the articles of impeachment on the governor.

The other 18 articles in the impeachment resolution were previously proposed in early 2013.

The following is a recap of those articles that were published in the Kaselehlie Press in the March 11, 2013 issue:

Articles one through seven have to do with the governor’s implementation of funding for a school lunch program.

Articles eight through 12 relate to alleged diversion, or reprogramming of Compact funds in order to establish a World Park office and/or a World Park project.

Articles 13 through 15 have to do with the period of time when the governor allegedly "took over control of PUC (Pohnpei Utilities Corporation)" and assigned a "temporary general Manager without approval of the PUC board." The Legislature claims that the governor’s temporary general manager then "executed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) committing PUC funds without the approval of the PUC board of directors in violation of 34 PC 1-112 of the Pohnpei Code.

Articles 16 and 17 have to do with the governor’s handling of the Legislature’s rejection of his nominee for the position of administrator of the Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture or OFA. The Legislature rejected the nominee after which the governor "caused said individual to be hired by the executive branch as a ‘consultant’ to OFA...at the exact same level of compensation as that set by law for a constitutionally appointed and seated administrator of said office." The articles say that no money was ever budgeted for such a position in the OFA budget.

The Legislature likewise accuses that consultant and the governor of conspiring "to take over much of the decision making responsibilities of the Office of Fisheries and Aquaculture.... In fact, the governor did on Dec. 12, 2012 summarily remove (the) acting administrator...when that acting administrator displayed reluctance to follow the incautious instructions of the governor’s ‘consultant.’ "

The Legislature took further umbrage with the hiring of the "consultant" outside of the lines of the Public Service System which requires that the position be advertised and be equally reviewed from among the applicants. According to that legally mandated system, selection of candidates should be "based on merit rather than on political patronage, nepotism, or other forms of favoritism," the impeachment articles say. It goes on to say that there are certain exceptions but that none of them applied to the candidate, the governor’s first cousin.

Article 18 alleged that the governor oversaw the issuance of a lease on January 16, 2013 of the government owned "PFC fish processing facilities" in Dekehtik to Miju Mulsan Co. Limited, a foreign company based in Seoul, Korea. Despite the "firm admonishment of the Legislature for the governor and his administration to follow proper procedures under the authority of applicable law...the governor has not taken the necessary steps to right the wrongs occasioned by this most unfortunate series of events," the resolution for impeachment says.

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