The lack of a national budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1 is worrying Nitijela leaders, one of whom is calling on RMI leaders to solve the current uncertainty over US Compact funding by introducing a “continuing resolution” that authorizes the same level of funding as presently budgeted to continue after September 30.
Speaker Kenneth Kedi said Tuesday that “Nitijela has been in recess awaiting the global budget bill and the Compact resolution!” The Speaker said with deadlines he set for the government to deliver the budget in August come and gone, he wants answers from the government and is bringing parliament back to session Thursday this week. Nitijela has nine sitting days left but faces the Constitutionally-mandated election-year dissolution of parliament after September 30, so it must wrap up all legislative work in the next three weeks.
Kwajalein Nitijela Member David Paul, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday he has not been provided with any update from the government as to when the proposed FY2024 budget will land.
Paul told the Journal the uncertainty over US Compact funding is why he has recommended to Cabinet leaders that a “continuing resolution” for funding be drafted to maintain the status quo of funding for the RMI government until the situation with Compact approval is clearer and a national budget can be completed.
The current 20-year funding agreement in the Compact ends September 30. A continuing resolution is used to authorize ongoing government spending for a set period of time at the levels already approved in the previous budget.
“My understand is that they (US and RMI negotiators) are very close to getting the Compact done and signed,” Paul said. “But the approval process of the Nitijela and US Congress is a totally different animal. It will take time.” He noted that various Congresspeople have already said there isn’t enough time for the US Congress to accomplish the work needed to approve the compacts before September 30.
Paul said it is his understanding that as long as the Compact is signed by the RMI and the US, the US government will introduce a continuing resolution to the US Congress “to ensure there is no funding gap for RMI. A continuing resolution will reflect the new (funding) figures (in the new Compact).”
But, he added, until the Compact is signed, the RMI is not able to budget new money. “We’re running out of time,” he said. “It’s why we’re saying (to the RMI government) do a continuing resolution (for funding) at the same levels as FY2023. To be on the safe side.”
Finance Minister Casten Nemra told the Journal late last week that a draft of the FY2024 budget had been reviewed by Cabinet in the recent days, but the document was still undergoing work at the Ministry of Finance before it would come back to Cabinet for a final review and introduction to Nitijela.
A complicating factor in producing the new budget for FY2024 is uncertainty about the Compact approval process. Compact details are currently under negotiation between the US and RMI representatives. A leading US Congressman, who supports passage of the Compacts, said he is doubtful of passage prior to September 30, when the current funding arrangement ends.
RMI government officials in different ministries and agencies were advised last week to submit their usual requests to the Ministry of Finance for US funding prior to this month’s deadline so that funding would be available to RMI on October 1 irrespective of passage of a US-RMI Compact.
Others have suggested, due to the RMI-US Compact being delayed due to a standstill in negotiations between January and July, that the RMI may need to use its Compact Trust Fund for the first time with the new fiscal year.
Speaker Kedi told the Journal that he originally set August 11 as the deadline for all legislation to be submitted to Nitijela. “The Cabinet requested more time, so I give them two more weeks.” But, he added, “now I am yet to receive either of the important legislations (budget and resolution approving the Compact). So I am calling back Nitijela this Thursday to get an update from President and the Cabinet.”