Covid dominates Nitijela’s return

Ministers Jiba Kabua, front left, and John Silk huddle during Monday’s Nitijela session, while Nitijela Members David Paul and Casten Nemra are in the back row. The Nitijela dispensed with its usual formal opening ceremony to get straight to business August 22. Photo: Hilary Hosia.


Leaders of the nation began their first Parliament meeting of the August session Monday with a moment of silence to honor the 14 Marshallese who passed away from Covid since the pandemic reached the shores of the RMI August 8.

A few minutes into the session, Speaker Kenneth Kedi called for an off air recess to remind the members not to deviate from Covid-related discussions but to concentrate on the issue at hand.
The atmosphere Monday was one of unison — all members agreed to address the immediate need facing the public: price gouging. Multiple concerns on price gouging brought up by members resulted in President David Kabua calling for an immediate Committee of the Whole with the Chamber of Commerce and the business sector to address the issue head on.

Kwajalein Parliament Member David Paul pushed to hold business owners and companies accountable, adding the price of a case of Sapporo ramen on Ebeye sells for $30, almost $11 to $12 higher than ramen cost on Majuro.

Majuro Nitijela Member Kalani Kaneko requested the government include fuel price monitoring due to high cost on Majuro, Ebeye and neighboring islands.

While majority of the leaders tried to muster up ways to assist the public in response to the pandemic, Aur Nitijela Member Hilda Heine thought outside the box and suggested government utilize existing assets. Hilda’s recommended using school buses as public transport to help people who are facing taxi fares that recently soared from $1.50 to $2.00 within town. Hilda also suggested the hospital waive its $5 fee people pay to visit the hospital. She even suggested making medicine accessible to the public at cheaper cost or for free.

Hilda also called for shipping transportation to be free of charge to citizens traveling to the neighboring islands, adding the government subsidy to the sea vessels as justification.
Also heard on the floor Monday:

• Speaker Kenneth Kedi: Requested MEC to provide $100 meter credit to all customers, especially vulnerable families, not a reduced rate of electricity.

• Culture and InternalAffairs Minister Ota Kisino: People on the outer islands need food. That is the priority: To deploy food.

• Lae Nitijela Member Thomas Heine: If the Ministry of Health needs assistance with a temporary crew to operate its new vessel, the Lomor crew is available since their vessel is now in Australia for heavy maintenance. “I want to recognize Dr. Alik, Dr. Riklon, Dr. Aina and nurse Philmar for volunteering and coming to RMI to help.”

• Health Minister Joe Bejang: The Cabinet pushed the border opening proposed by the Covid Roadmap to January 2023. “We’ll revisit it once our current situation calms down.”

• Jaluit Nitijela Member Casten Nemra: He heard RMI government officials talking about “business as usual” on V7AB. “It’s not, we’re in a health disaster. People are dead, people are suffering, and everyone needs masks and hand sanitizer.” It is a disconnect for government people to be saying business as usual when “we are in a disaster. People don’t want to hear words of condolence. They want to hear words of help.” Nemra recommended a one-time government payment of $1,500 to families to help them with the current circumstances.

• Minister Bejang: Masks are available at the hospital and at all community test sites. The CDC doctors say that RMI is much better prepared than many other countries in the world. Tests are available, treatment is available for people.

• Natural Resources and Commerce Minister John Silk: “Let’s hold a Committee of the Whole (COW) and bring in the CDC and Ministry of Health to get the most up-to-date information so everyone is on the same page and everyone in Marshall Islands will know where we are.”

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