Palau President Responds To Complaints About Fee Increases

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

Remengesau: Only concern raised during hearings was collection method

By L. N. Reklai

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, May 13, 2016) – President Tommy Remengesau Jr. acknowledged receiving the letter from Japanese businesses on island requesting him to reconsider the implementation of the Environmental Impact Fee and Visa fee.

"I want to make it clear that these are two separate issues. The Environmental Impact fee which was the original part of the Palau Marine Sanctuary bill had undergone numerous public hearings of both House and the Senate. The only concern that was raised was the mode of collection for this fee and not the amount," said President Remengesau in response to the concern raise.

"Right now, the visitors are paying $50 dollars departure fee. That is raised to a $100 under the PNMS law. And let me correct the misinformation going on right now about the fee. Palauans, foreigners married to Palauans, people with valid working permits and transit passengers are exempted from paying this fee," stressed Remengesau.

"We are closing off 80% of our marine resource and therefore any benefit derived from this closure belongs to all Palauans, the resource owners. $10 out of $100 will go to Fishery Fund to be used for management and monitoring of the Marine Sanctuary. $12.50 is divided among the States, whose current fishing revenues will be affected by the closure. $25 goes to subsidize Pension Plan. As I said, this resource belongs to Palauans and should benefit the resource owners. $22.50 is the current departure tax that is included into this amount. And $30 is the Green Fee that is already being collected from our visitors," explained President Remengesau.

"The $50 visa fee was a rider that the Senate added to the bill. Due to the importance of this legislation, we signed it into law but with understanding that we will look at this further. This can be amended so that countries that have established relations with Palau, can have the visa fee waived," he added.

In a letter to Alfonso Diaz of WWFM, Keobel Sakuma, Executive Director of Palau National Marine Sanctuary also reiterated that the payment of the $100 Environmental Impact Fee does not apply to Palauan citizens, spouses of Palauan citizens who are not Palauan, individuals with valid work permit and transit passengers.

The letter to President Remengesau signed by 40 Japanese companies protested that the fee increase (from $50 to $150) will drive customers away from Palau and may result in closure of some of the companies in Palau.

"There’s always been complains when fees are increased. When minimum wage was proposed, there were concerns that businesses will close. When Green Fee was imposed, concerns were also raised. I think the real issue is the mode of collection. People don’t want to leave Palau and have to pull out money out to pay. It should be incorporated with airline ticket so that it is convenient for customers," stated Remengesau.

"The law identifies a Taskforce that implements this particular part of the law. I believe they are developing regulations right now," said PNMS Director Sakuma.

On the $50 visa fee, USA, FSM and RMI citizens are exempted. Minister of Finance is given an authority determine additional exemptions through regulation such as exemptions for specified classes of individuals, for transiting passengers, for diplomats, airline pilots and crew, individuals with work permit, or increasing fee for certain nationalities.

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