The Obiil Era Kelulau (OEK) - The Senate
Members of the Senate are popularly elected to a term of four years and may be removed from office only by recall or impeachment. Under the Constitution, to be eligible to hold office in the Senate, a person must be a citizen of Palau; a resident for not less than 5 years immediately preceding the election; and not less than 25 years of age. The Senate of the the First Olbiil Era Kelulau had eighteen (18) members, while the Senate of the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth , Olbiil Era Kelulau had fourteen (14) members. As a result of reapportionment, the Senate of the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau is now to be composed of nine (9) members. Eight Senators took office on January 1, 2001. One seat remains unfilled for lack of meeting the requisite eligibility qualifications.
The Senate of the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau has seven (7) standing committees: Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Affairs; Committee on Ways and Means and Financial Matters; Committee on Health and Education; Committee on Tourism Development and Cultural Affairs; Committee on Foreign Affairs and State Relations; Committee on Resources, Commerce, Trade and Development; Committee on Youth Affairs and Social Welfare . These committees were created in order to consider and report on all matters that are referred to them, including bills, resolutions, and investigations. Special and ad hoc committees may be created from time to time as the need for them arises.
The leadership of the Senate consists of a President, Vice President, and Floor Leader. An executive committee of the Senate consists the leadership and all standing committee chairmen. The Senate maintains a central supporting staff, including committee staffing, who are supervised by the Clerk of the Senate. The Sergeant-at-Arms is responsible for maintaining order and decorum on the floor at all times. The Senate Legislative Counsels Office is responsible for all legal counseling, research, drafting, and other matters as may be assigned to it. In addition to the above, separate offices of the Budget Officer and Administrative Officer are jointly maintained by both houses to support the two houses in each offices respective responsibilities.
DECLARATION OF LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
The Senate of the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau finds and declares that it will give the following matters priority legislative consideration, so far as consistent with the needs of the Republic and the Senate's other legislative responsibilities:
It is incumbent upon the Senate of the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau to carefully assess our past, present, and future use of funding received under the Compact of Free Association and the sustainability of current levels of government expenditures. We should thoroughly review our Constitution and consider whether to propose amendments in the interest of streamlining government to reduce costs where possible to do so without sacrificing the basic principles on which the Republic is founded. We must find alternate sources of funding and take steps to improve the economy so as to increase revenues. We must thoroughly consider and enact the best proposals for improving our system of taxation.
Acceleration of Economic Development and Growth
It is necessary to evaluate and amend our foreign investment law so as to stimulate private sector economic development, including by foreign investors, and to promote the exploration of ways to conservatively utilize the resources of our land and ocean waters that may have the potential to generate revenue for the Republic. We must study the effects of creating tax incentives for both foreign and domestic investors. We must promote and improve the Republic's primary industry, tourism, by actively advancing development of additional tourist facilities in Babeldaob and, if necessary, by amending the law to strengthen the agency primarily responsible for the promotion of tourism. We must study the merits of establishing one or more free trade zones in the Republic or urging the States to do so. We must develop banking and financial industry regulation so as to make Palau an attractive financial center in the Western Pacific region. We must consider the expansion and improvement of our airport and seaport, and whether an additional airport or seaport, or both, would be beneficial. We must promote new growth and competition in air transportation, and we must explore the merits of an "open registry" system for ocean shipping.
Healthcare and Education
Improvements in care, control of healthcare costs, an affordable national healthcare financing plan, more efficient use of public funds available for healthcare, and expansion of Palauans' access to quality healthcare are vitally important to the welfare of the Republic. We must take action to see that the National Hospital continues to be well equipped and staffed and also that all Babeldaob super-dispensaries and the Peleliu super-dispensary are operational. We must finds ways to generate funds to buy medical supplies and drugs. We must take early action on the national health care financing plan, which passed the Senate of the Fifth Olbiil Era Kelulau and was transmitted to the House. The quality of instruction in our public schools must be improved to enable future generations to compete successfully in the 21st century. Our schools, particularly in the outlying areas, are falling behind much of the rest of the world. We should consider appropriating funds for a second public high school, located in Babeldaob, to meet the needs of Palauans living outside Koror. At the same time, however, we should consider consolidating elementary schools located close together, which would result in significant cost savings and minimal inconvenience to children and their parents. We must not only improve our school buildings, we must enact higher standards for both teachers and students. The members of the Senate should review recent audit reports from the Office of the Public Auditor for the period October 1, 1994 to September 30, 1997 on the Ministry of Education and the Palau Scholarship Fund, which propose legislative responses to some of the Republic's educational deficiencies. We must seek ways to make higher education available to more Palauans.
Youth, Social Welfare and Retirement
We must seek to empower our youth outside of the formal education system. The Olbiil Era Kelulau must take action to give meaning to "Youth Day" as an official holiday and support the activities of the Youth Congress as a learning opportunity for the young people of Palau. We must find legislative ways to improve living conditions for all Palauans. We must ensure that all Palauans, especially those lacking adequate financial means, enjoy adequate, sanitary, sound, and safe housing. The Senate should take the lead in drafting and enacting proper building codes, primarily for housing but also for all other buildings in Palau. We must explore and open new business opportunities for the people, so as to ensure that the benefits of economic development and opportunity are fairly distributed among all citizens and that all Palauans have a fair chance to achieve economic security and self-sufficiency. We must strengthen government support, legislatively, for farming, fisheries, and tourism in Palau, including the creation of a central market, so as to secure increased economic benefits to the people. At the same time, we must seek ways to make available legal services for lower income Palauans. We must turn our attention to the needs of disabled Palauans. We must seek to develop means to improve retirement and social security benefits and ensure that funding to support these critical programs will continue to flow into the National Treasury.
Land Tenure/Title Determinations/Homestead and Land Lease Programs
We must take legislative action to expedite determinations of land ownership so that all Palauans can begin to make use of or benefit from their land. This will require intensive work and creative energy during the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau. Under current law, land title determinations are to be completed less than two years from now, by December 21, 2002. Experience shows, however, that this deadline is still unrealistic in spite of improved efficiency of the Land Court during the past year. The Olbiil Era Kelulau must continue its efforts, in consultation with the Chief Justice, Land Court Judges, mediators, and private attorneys and trial counselors, to both expedite the adjudication of land title disputes and issuance of land title determinations and to improve the quality of the decisions so that fewer land matters require an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Olbiil Era Kelulau must examine the functioning of the Palau Public Lands Authority and state PLA's regarding the mandate set forth in the Constitution, Article XIII, ß10 to return public lands to their rightful owners if the land was acquired by previous occupying powers or their nationals through force, coercion, fraud or without just or adequate compensation. The Olbiil Era Kelulau should investigate the lack of progress in processing claims under the Homestead Program. Such improvements to land tenure issues and the system of title determination are crucial, because land is the primary asset of the majority of Palauan families. We must assist Governors, State Legislatures, and traditional chiefs to open land lease and homestead programs for the benefit of those Palauans who do not own land. Early resolution of these issues will lay essential groundwork for further economic development of the Republic.
Traditional Culture and Arts, Conservation and Environmental Protection
The Olbiil Era Kelulau must act to ensure preservation of Palauan traditional culture and arts, thereby protecting and strengthening our common national identity in the face of international influences that tend to diminish our awareness of our roots. The Olbiil Era Kelulau should enact a law designating appropriate lands for use as a national park. This recreation area will strengthen our recognition of our heritage and help link us with our traditions. It is at once an environmental necessity and a Palauan tradition to practice conservation, and therefore Senate legislative action to conserve and protect the beauty and safety of our rich, yet fragile natural environment serves both practical and cultural needs.
Grant and Loan-Funded CIP Projects
The Senate must continue and intensify its oversight of four major CIP projects being funded largely by outside grants loans and must be prepared to act legislatively in any way necessary to promote the completion of these projects as soon as reasonably possible. First, great strides have been made in the Babeldaob Road Project, through the cooperation of U.S. authorities and foreign and local contractors with the national government, but much remains to be done before the project is complete. Second, the Capital Relocation Project is well underway, after having secured major loan financing through a Taiwan bank, but many contingencies will need to be anticipated and addressed before the national government can be moved to Melekeok. Third, the Airport Terminal Project being financed by a grant from the Japanese government will require oversight and monitoring until its completion, so as to ensure that air transportation of passengers and cargo is not unduly disturbed or interrupted. And fourth, construction of the new K-B Bridge is progressing rapidly, and we must be prepared to do what is necessary to facilitate completion of the project and assume responsibility for maintaining the new structure.
National Government CIP Program
With the dwindling amount of Compact Section 212(b) funding remaining for CIP projects, the National Government must properly prioritize and inspect construction projects to ensure successful and cost-effective completion. The Olbiil Era Kelulau must base legislative action on budgeting for CIP projects on complete and adequate information, so as to make best use of limited CIP funds. Funding for architectural plans, engineering studies, and other pre-construction work should be appropriated before funding for construction, so as to maintain better legislative oversight over the best uses of our remaining CIP funding.
Public Utilities and Services
It is incumbent on us to take a firm stand and to address the everyday problems of providing public services to our people, including reliable electric power, clean tap water, dependable telecommunications, efficient sewage treatment and disposal, and prudent, environmentally sound solid waste disposal.
Communication and Transportation/Domestic Transportation Development
The Olbiil Era Kelulau must explore legislative solutions to the high cost of telecommunications and transportation. These premium costs are a major impediment to our economic strength, particularly in the areas of tourism and small business development. Palauans now pay some of the highest long distance telephone rates in the world. Although PNCC must generate sufficient revenues to repay its REA loan, most Palauans and many small businesses simply cannot afford long distance service. International air travel to and from Palau is among the costliest anywhere in the world, and service is scheduled at times that are inconvenient even for doing business within the Micronesian and Western Pacific Region. The Olbiil Era Kelulau and Executive Branch must work together to foster competition in the area of airline service to Palau, and find ways that PNCC can repay its REA obligations without having to charge rates that the average person cannot afford. We must see to the planning and construction of interstate connecting roads so as to facilitate and improve the flow of commerce among the states.
The Olbiil Era Kelulau must actively investigate and act on the impact that the influx of foreign nationals is having on our infrastructure, environment, ability to deliver necessary services, and our society and traditional beliefs generally. We should investigate whether to adopt a quota or other appropriate system to control the impact of the foreign immigration. We must address and decide whether to extend the authority of our Customs officers, and we must provide them in any event with the training and equipment necessary to effectively control our borders under their current authority.
The Fifth Olbiil Era Kelulau increased funding for the Ministry of Justice to hire additional police officers, but even these increases are insufficient to make all of the needed improvements to the Ministry's investigative and enforcement capabilities. The drug problem in Palau persists notwithstanding the substantial increase in penalties for drug-related crimes set forth in RPPL No. 5-3. The increase in "sin taxes" on alcohol has not resulted in an appreciable decline in alcohol-related violence and crimes. We must consider legislative solutions to these continuing problems.
The members of the Senate must ensure that their conduct is legal and ethical at all times. The Senators can take the lead in exemplifying dedication to our country and the importance of ethical responsibility, not only for the Olbiil Era Kelulau, but for the other branches of government as well. All of us, whether we are elected, appointed, or otherwise employed in a government job, must show the people that our sense of duty and government ethics is strong, and that we will never place our own interests above those of the people we work for. The Senators need to carefully review the requirements of the Code of Ethics Act, RPPL No. 5-32, and, whenever there is an ethics-related question, to solicit the advice of the Senate Legal Counsel and the Ethics Commission.
Review of the Constitution
After twenty years of successful and stable constitutional government, we have nevertheless gained experience that prompts us to consider making a careful review of our Constitution and to decide whether to propose certain amendments so as to better adapt our basic law to the present and future needs of the people. Certain proposals to reduce the size and cost of government while increasing its efficiency have been entertained from time to time over the years without being thoroughly deliberated in public and legislative debate. It is appropriate during the Sixth Olbiil Era Kelulau for the Senate to carry forward the study of these proposals, to deepen our understanding of their implications, and, having due regard for the rights and interests of the people, to see that any necessary or desirable amendments are presented for public approval.