Arguments over a reported bribe attempt, the RMI’s “SOV” plan, and the proposed Rongelap investment zone dominated Nitijela’s first session day Monday after a three-week break for committee hearings. You could describe Monday’s session as a rugby scrum, with battling parties locked head to head and kicking the ball back and forth.
Maloelap Senator Bruce Bilimon tossed out the first salvo, asking which senator was offered an envelope with cash and demanding an update from government on the digital currency plan known as the SOV. “People are discrediting us (over the attempted bribe report),” said Bilimon. “Even my constituents are asking me about it.” He added that he was not offered an envelope of cash.
Jabot Senator Kessai Note followed, asking what is the status of the government’s “crypto currency,” a term that has in past sessions been repeatedly “corrected” by Cabinet ministers saying it’s “digital currency,” not crypto currency. Note pointed out the proposed FY2019 national budget shows no allocation from the SOV program. “But you promised by this time there would be money for the budget and the people,” Note said.
Minister David Paul, a cosponsor of the SOV legislation earlier this year, fired back, saying it was the government’s right as a sovereign entity to launch the SOV anytime. But, Paul said, as a responsible government, the RMI was practicing good governance by working to resolve issues brought up by the International Monetary Fund and other international finance bodies before it moves ahead with the launch. “This is why we are waiting,” he said. “We want to minimize the risks.”
Note fired back that he recognized the SOV Act as “enabling legislation.” He said he was also happy to report on another “enabling act” for Rongelap, referring to the proposed Rongelap Atoll Special Administration Zone proposal. Note’s comments were followed by Speaker Kenneth Kedi, who looked at the members and asked, “who here received an envelope with cash?” He called on the members who did to come forward.
Kedi then moved to the Rongelap investment plan, saying that opponents have been making false negative allegations about Cary Yan, the investor behind the plan. “Speculation about his organization at the United Nations shows nothing,” he said. “The FBI background check shows nothing.” Kedi said Yan “wants to help us.” As he was talking, Minister Paul interjected a point of order, interrupting Kedi, who yielded the floor. Paul said it was premature to be talking about the Rongelap plan because the proposed legislation had not been introduced to Nitijela.
Kwajalein Senator Alvin Jacklick piped up, in his first session returning from medical leave, to admonish Speaker Kedi: “This is your house, control it,” said Jacklick, a former speaker.
Majuro Senator David Kramer took the floor and bombarded the government with a series of questions about the SOV plan. He held up a news report asking, “how come we get updates on the SOV from outside media? Where’s the update from the government?”
Paul said the government would provide a report on SOV to Nitijela Wednesday this week.
The Q&A sessions Tuesday and Wednesday at Nitijela generated ongoing heated debate over the proposed Rongelap investment plan, purported offer of RMI passports in Hong Kong promotions of the Rongelap plan, and a national government settlement of a lawsuit over purchase of Nitijela PA equipment.
Read more about this in the September 21, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.