The Marshall Islands is facing hard times — prices of food, fuel and other goods have skyrocketed, while worker salaries have remained stagnant. This was a message delivered repeatedly by President David Kabua during his address to the nation at Monday’s Nitijela opening.
Kabua said Covid, climate change and the war in Ukraine have increased the prices of everything increasing hardships for Marshallese. “People are facing higher costs but their wages have not increased,” he said, repeating this theme several times during his address.
He also check marked key issues for the Marshall Islands in 2023:
• The hosting of the Micronesian Games in July-August.
• Getting construction of new hospital facilities on track.
• Getting a new power plant and distribution system in place for Majuro.
• Completing negotiations on the Compact of Free Association.
The President also said that government services to the public must improve.
He recognized the multiple donor countries and agencies that are providing the majority of funding that the RMI depends on.
He also touched on the Cary Yan bribery scandal by informing the nation that he had no information about the criminal case or people involved. He indicated he was waiting for updates from the RMI Attorney General.
Chairman Council of Irooj Chairman Irooj Jimata Kabua delivered brief remarks in which he called for everyone to work together on the impacts of climate change.
Speaker Kenneth Kedi interspersed the opening with brief comments, mostly related to negotiations on the Compact. At one junction he mentioned the need in the negotiations to address climate change, the Kwajalein military use and operating rights agreement, and the nuclear test legacy.
The start and finish of the day were blessed by UCC President Rev. Palukne Johnny.
The formal opening took just under one-hour to conclude, after which everyone enjoyed food.
As is usual at opening ceremonies where there is no drama, the turnout by the public was modest, with big sections of the gallery empty.
The next day, Nitijela covered a wide-range of territory at its first business day, from school lunches to the Cary Yan bribery scandal.
Food vendors providing lunches for the Public School System are about to get a raise, according to Minister of Education, Sports and Training Wilbur Heine.
Minister Heine announced Wednesday the hot lunch program will get a bump from $2 to $2.50 per meal. The announcement came in before Nitijela went into its Q&A session Wednesday, the first day of business following Tuesday’s ceremonial opening.
In the Q&A session, Majuro Parliament Member Tony Muller highlighted the fact that all ministers have responsibilities under their respective portfolios, adding that the National Telecommunication Authority (NTA) should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Transportation, Communication and Technology. Tony then questioned why other ministers are taking leading roles in the NTA/Digital RMI conundrum.
He also demanded Cabinet to reveal its plan to save the 40 to 50 percent of employees that would lose their jobs under the NTA reform plan. Minister of Finance, Postal Service and Banking Commission Brenson Wase said the government does not have a budget plan in place to absorb the employee fallout. But, he added, the government will be responsible for displaced employees.
Majuro Nitijela Member Kalani Kaneko urged the government to prioritize building seawalls next to the homes that were devastated by the recent inundation in December. Kalani said there were 10 families that had to evacuate their homes due to the inundation. These families sought shelter in schools and churches.
“Three of the 10 homes, however, had their homes completely destroyed,” Kalani told the Journal. “Some of the homes had their bathroom completely destroyed.” The three homes are in Jenrok while the other seven are in Delap.
The government had since approved over $100,000 to repair the 10 homes following the December inundation, as reported by Minister Brenson. Kalani added that the government consider prioritizing seawalls to protect the affected homes from future inundations, adding that the government utilize seawall funding already allocated for use in the 2023 fiscal year.
Mejit Nitijela Member Dennis Momotaro re-amplified the people’s voice and asked President David Kabua to reveal names of officials involved in the Cary Yan and Gina Zhou bribes. Dennis acknowledged the President’s state of the nation address during the opening of Nitiela Tuesday and called on President Kabua to expose officials involved in the bribery when and if the president receives official communication from the Office of the Attorney General.
Parliament went off air and discussed Momotaro’s inquiry before returning and dissolving the session until Thursday the next day.