Palau Senate Calls For Investigation Into Non-Citizens In Tourism

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Impact of heavy involvement of foreigners in sector needs exploration

By Jose Rodriguez T. Senase

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, Nov. 5, 2015) – The Senate has passed the Senate Joint Resolution which urges Pres. Remengesau to establish a task force to investigate the involvement of non-citizens in the tourism industry.

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Joint Resolution No. 9-62 during its session on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. The measure was then forwarded to the House of Delegates (HOD) for its consideration.

The Resolution noted that currently non-citizens are heavily involved in Palau’s tourism industry, particularly in capacities such as tour operators and drivers and owners of boats and buses.

The tourism industry is critical to Palau’s economy, providing the country with both revenue and employment opportunities. A large part of revenues derived by the government come from tourism.

The Foreign Investment Act and the regulations of the Foreign Investment Board (FIB) restrict the participation of non-citizens in various industries.

It stated that further investigation is necessary to determine if such large participation of non-citizens in a critical industry is beneficial to Palau’s economy and what can be done to encourage the employment of Palauans in tourism and transportation.

"Be it resolved by the Senate of the Ninth Olbiil Era Kelulau that the Senate calls upon His Excellency Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., President of the Republic of Palau, to create a task force to investigate the employment of non-citizens in the tourism industry, with particular attention to tour operators, drivers, boat operators, and ownership of buses and boats and create recommendations for promoting the employment of Palauan citizens in the industry.

The measure was originally introduced by Senator Phillip Reklai, Senate President Camsek Chin, and Senators Surangel Whipps, Jr., Rukebai Inabo, Raynold Oilouch, J. Uduch Sengebau-Senior, Hokkons Baules, Mason Whipps, Mark Rudimch, and Regis Akitaya.

In an interview, Sen. Reklai, the lead author of the resolution, said transportation in all countries in the world is reserved for their local people.

"Palau should be doing the same," he stressed. "It is long overdue. Something should be done to protect the locals," the Senator added.

Other senators also voiced strong support for the measure.

For her part, Sen. Inabo said that FIB laws should be implemented properly. "All economic benefits should go to Palauans," she stressed.

She said that they want the government to do something for the people. "We should not sit while u own people don’t earn money," Inabo added.

Sen. Oilouch said he is looking at the issue like a pie.

He said a big part of the pie is for the Palauan people. "Outsiders will get more pie if you let them in," he stressed.

For his part, Sen. M. Whipps said that his main concern is that to make sure that locals involved in the tourism industry are protected.

He said that local boat operators are being left out. "The most important thing that the government should have is to make sure that economic development benefits Palauans.

Sen. S. Whipps, on his part, stated that the law is not being enforced. "We need a task force to evaluate loopholes and fix them," he said.

Whipps said the law should be applied uniformly and properly.

"Palauans should only be the ones involved in this trade," he concluded.

Sen. Senior said she sees violation of labor and immigration laws.

She noted that some foreign tour guides are working here on a tourist visa.

"I hope that this will bring attention to front businesses in the tourism industry," Senior stressed.

The move also garnered the support of the Palau Boaters Association (PBA).

"This problem has been here for a long time," said PBA President Merol Ngirmeriil.

He said he hopes the government put some more boat moratorium on boats owned by non-citizens.

"My message is for the government to wake up and take some action," he concluded.

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