GIFF JOHNSON and HILARY HOSIA
Last week’s signing of an MOU for the Compact of Free Association was momentous for the Marshall Islands and the United States, coming less than a year since RMI Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua took up her post and US Special Envoy Joseph Yun was named by President Biden to head the US negotiating team. The signing by Kabua and Yun followed one day after Palau signed its own MOU with the US.
Subject to US Congressional budget approval, which is never a guarantee, the new agreement sets out the terms of the financial package that the US will provide to the RMI starting October 1 this year, the day after the current 20-year US funding deal runs out. The MOU was signed to meet the US budget appropriations process that normally starts with the Biden Administration submitting its FY2024 budget to the Congress next month.
But the MOU signing caused angst and anger at Nitijela Monday and Tuesday, as some Nitijela Members who are on the Compact Negotiations Committee said they were in the dark about it and didn’t approve the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
At Wednesday’s Nitijela session, Minister Kabua provided brief comments about the signing and general points about the MOU, but said she could not share the funding details due to it not having been given yet to the US Congress for review. The MOU is reported to be light on details, but lists exact funding amounts, including the agreement for the US government to inject $700 million into the RMI Trust Fund that will be “repurposed.”
Kabua did say that the value of the new Compact is 188 percent more than the previous Compact.
The new Compact includes funds to memorialize the nuclear legacy through building a museum and technical assistance to gain nuclear documents.
Kabua assured the chamber that the MOU was to present the numbers, not the specifics. She added that Special Envoy Yun had a budget for the freely associated states, and Palau was first to sign, so the RMI had to dive in to secure its share.
Mejit Member Dennis Momotaro said during the off-air discussion the RMI shouldn’t compare itself to the other freely associated states because due to various issues, the RMI has a unique relationship with the US.
Kabua said the US Congress has not seen the MOU but controls approval of funding. She said Yun and his close colleagues have the MOU.
She also said the US recognized the nuclear issues of the RMI and the US understands the RMI’s “no nuclear, no Compact” position.
Immediately following Kabua’s brief Compact report, Speaker Kenneth Kedi stepped in to order both V7AB audio and NTA livestream to turn off their broadcasts so the Members could work out how Nitijela would discuss Compact issues given confidentiality of the document.
Kabua assured each Member they would receive a copy of MOU on their emails. She asked all Members to protect the contents and not jeopardize future talks.
After being off-air for about 15 minutes, the Speaker returned the session to broadcast. Kabua took the opportunity to apologize for the way the MOU was signed without the consent of Members and that she would include all members in future talks.
Jaluit Member Jemi Nashion put a final note on the Compact discussion by pushing for a unified front on the compact because he thinks there is no unity and transparency with the way Cabinet handled the MOU.
Then Majuro Member Kalani Kaneko asked Acting Justice Minister Jiba Kabua to schedule a time to discuss the officials who received bribes from Cary Yan with two FBI officials who are currently on Majuro. Acting Justice Minister Jiba Kabua says he is ready to schedule a sit down with the officials anytime.
President David Kabua added on the FBI officials current visit and said that the government will get a report of their work from the US Embassy once they complete what they came here for.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a press release about the MOU signing, which follows:
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by RMI Chief Compact of Free Association Negotiator and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kitlang Kabua and US Special Presidential Envoy Joseph Yun last week Thursday January 12 in Los Angeles, California.
This memorandum is a key step towards continuing and strengthening the free association between the two nations especially as essential provisions of the Compact of Free Association expire this year. The Memorandum concerns assistance over the next 20 years and beyond and would provide more assistance than previously proposed.
The RMI Compact Negotiations Commission was able to secure US action and funding for a range of pressing issues that nuclear representatives had raised and flagged as priorities for the communities that were acutely affected by the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program.
Among these issues that the nuclear representatives had highlighted and were able to secure in this MOU are the following:
- Funding for a national healthcare program that would provide comprehensive medical care for all Marshallese.
- Funding for studies and technical assistance for the Marshall Islands environmental programs.
- Funding and assistance to improve accessibility of documents and information related to the US Nuclear Weapons Testing Program including waste disposal.
- Funding towards a museum/education center that would serve as a repository and research facility for all information related to the US Nuclear Weapons Testing Program.
and last but not least,
- Funding that would provide compensation to the many lives that were drastically altered by the US Nuclear Weapons Testing Program.
RMI Chief Compact of Free Association Negotiator and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kitlang Kabua and US Special Presidential Envoy Joseph Yun are working to complete the full free association agreement by early Spring. It would ‘flesh out’ details regarding elements of the Memorandum and cover many other matters in the multi-faceted relationship, which is as close as any two nations can have.
Minister Kabua wishes to extend her sincere gratitude to the representatives of the Nuclear affected atolls: Compact Negotiations Commission members Minister Jack J. Ading, Speaker Kenneth A. Kedi, Vice Speaker Peterson Jibas, Senator Hiroshi V. Yamamura, Nuclear Steering Committee Chair Minister Kessai Note, Mid-Range Atolls Chair Senator Maynard Alfred, along with the traditional leadership and respective mayors and councils from each atoll for their hard work and dedication towards this effort.