IN MICRONESIA (PART THREE)
YOUR TAXES AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE PACIFIC
by: Sherry O'Sullivan
TB correspondent in Canada
Billions of American tax dollars flow into former and
current Trust Territories in the Pacific. These exotic
areas include Amerika Samoa, the Federated States of
Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands, the U.S.
Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI),
Guam, and Palau (to name a few). Here's a brief
snapshot of current events in some of these areas, all
heavily funded by your tax money.
The FSM: Is the Fix In?
I recently reported on criminal corruption complaints
served against Jack Fritz, Speaker of the House of the
FSM unicameral Congress (see Corruption in Micronesia,
Part Two). A trusted source recently informed me that
the all powerful Speaker is presently traveling in Seattle
and Portland to visit the large Micronesian communities
located there. As usual, he is traveling on the public
checkbook. His mission? To collect support
for his four-year seat as Speaker and, ultimately, his
bid for the Presidency of the FSM. As an endnote,
please recall that the FSM Congress has sealed its travel
records and expenditures from public scrutiny.
Majuro, Marshall Islands: Too much is Not Enough
Allen P.Fields is a retired jurist from California.
In 1993 he traveled to Majuro and eventually became
the Chief Justice in the Marshall Islands. On January
27 of this year he tendered a letter of resignation
and left Majuro after some unfavorable publicity hit
the islands. It seems that Fields was arrested on charges
of sex solicitation and committing a lewd act in front
of a policeman in a Sacramento, California park known
to be homosexual hangout. Fields was among six men arrested
on January 6 in that park. Fields, a longtime resident
of Sacramento, claimed to have experienced a bladder
problem and didn't know the park was frequented by homosexuals.
"When I have to go, I have to go, wherever I am," He
said. This statement leads to interesting speculation
about his deportment on the bench. Fields pleaded "no
contest" and was fined $100 with three years probation.
Fields is reputed to have been paid $25,000 a year as
a justice in the Marshall Islands, while also drawing
$108,000 a year in retirement plus $513 a day as a "visiting
judge" in Northern California. The Marshall Islands'
President, Kessai Note, declined to accept Fields' resignation.
Fields is the second Marshall Islands chief justice
to be charged criminally in recent months. Last October,
the Marshall Islands' Attorney General filed charges
of travel related theft and fraud against suspended
High Court Chief Justice Charles Henry, also a retired
American judge from California. Henry, who worked under
Chief Justice Fields as a trial judge, is accused of
stealing $14,000 in connection with government travel
expenses. This writer is assuming that Judge Henry operates
under the terms of a financial package similar to that
of Judge Fields. Your taxes at play.
Palau: Good Ol' Boys Club
Palau enjoys a Compact of Free Association with the
USA similar to those of the FSM and CNMI. All compacts
provide billions of dollars in subsidies for development,
as well as countless US federal programs. Last month,
thirteen members of Palau's House of Delegates were
facing civil and criminal charges, including cheating,
forgery, embezzlement, misconduct in public
office, and grand larceny in relation to the conversion
of government travel funds for their own personal use.
The total amount reported stolen was $182,000. Those
indicted included the House Speaker and 12 other delegates.
The special prosecutor decided to drop all charges if
the malfeasors would agree to repay the money they'd
looted. And so, they all agreed to settle the case through
restitution of funds. In a public statement that was
supposed to explain it away, the special prosecutor
said, This will " . . . save both [the special prosecutor]
and the republic the resulting expense and inconvenience."
And here I always thought convictions would not only
include restitution penalties, but also mete out the
punishment due to public leaders who misuse their powers.
However, the really good news is that the formerly indicted
all agreed that, in the future, they "will submit receipts
or other documentation that will substantiate their
travel expenditures along with travel vouchers and written
trip reports containing detailed explanations of all
expenditures." Stay tuned.
Guam: Typhoon Alley
Guam is located in what is known as "Typhoon Alley."
They get whomped every year and, every few years they
are also visited by a deadly phenomenon known as a Super
typhoon. That was the case with Super typhoon Paka in
1997 (I know. I was there at the time, trying to hang
on). Damage was legion and FEMA and the US Federal Government
stepped in. However, one of the caveats FEMA levied
after the Paka disaster was that local agencies would
have to insure their buildings as a condition of receiving
future federal grant damage funds.
But not everyone paid attention. Last month Super typhoon
Pongsona arrived on Guam. Surprise, the Department of
Education failed to insure its buildings and will now
lose out on $5.5 million in federal funds to repair
their damaged schools. Ditto the Department of Parks
and Recreation. And the Guam Airport Agency also failed
to buy insurance coverage for typhoon losses and faces
having to pay millions of dollars in post-Pongsona repair
costs. Airport damage is estimated at $46 million.
The airport also faces additional fiscal liabilities
due to decreased tourism. But my favorite "loss" is
the result of an exhibit of Chinese terra cotta warriors
the airport agency sponsored. The exhibit won't end
until April, but the agency already forecasts that the
venture will end up costing them $500,000, in spite
of entrance fees.
The Government of Guam has other budgetary troubles.
Its GovGuam Retirement Fund is projected to run out
of money in "about nine years," according to its departing
board chairman. The retirement fund is losing about
$100 million a year, mostly due to lawmakers who have
borrowed as much as $30 million each year to make supplemental
payments to government retirees. These payments are
not part of the retirees' regular benefits, but are
characterized as "gifts from local taxpayers." One wonders
if the taxpayers are invited to sign the gift cards?
Added to this, Guam's government ran over budget (again)
and has only enough money on hand to pay its employees
through this the end of this month. The administration
is entertaining various borrowing schemes (guaranteed
by US federal tax money), as well as Draconian personnel
and benefits cuts. This raised a predictable question
from one of the island's senators, Joanne Brown. She
asks why payroll cuts for the executive branch are being
postponed, while the legislative and court budgets have
already been trimmed. Business as usual.
High Performance Commander
Yesterday, Guam's highest ranking policeman, Commander
Col. Joseph P. Mafnas, was jailed for creating and signing
his own performance evaluation. The signature he used
was that of the former police chief. Unable to make
the $25,000 bail, Mafnas was sent to jail where he was
separated from the other prisoners. In 1997, Mafnas'
nomination to the position of police chief was rejected
after polygraph results revealed that Mafnas lied about
stealing, physically injuring people and using his influence
to help police cadets pass training courses. Had the
altered performance evaluation not been detected, Mafnas
would have received an incremental increase in pay based
on the bogus evaluation.
week, former Guam Mass Transit Authority Assistant
General Manager, Antonio "Tony" Diaz was indicted
after he allegedly used a government-issued credit
card to rack up $10,000 in charges for his personal
Territory Retirement Fund: Where's the Beef?
More than 2000 families in the Marshall Islands, Palau,
CNMI, and the Federated States of Micronesia depend
upon something called a "prior service" retirement
trust fund. This fund assists retirees who worked
for the American Trust Territory administration from
shortly after W.W. II until the early 1990s. Unfortunately,
the trust fund is on the verge of bankruptcy and its
administrator is asking for more U.S. Congressional
The administrator of the trust fund, Jerry Facey,
says retirees now receive an average of $40 each month.
The trust fund failed to issue any payments during
five months last year due to lack of funds. With a
balance of only $200,000, Facey says the trust will
only last a few more months.
In fiscal years 2000 and 2002, the US Department of
the Interior provided a total of $950,000 to bail
out the trust fund. As of this writing, an additional
$2 million taxpayer infusion is awaiting action on
the U.S. Senate floor. What is intriguing about this
story is that nowhere in any report I've been able
to locate, is the reason for the trust fund's failure
explained or addressed. Where's the beef?
The Art of the Deal: Kwajalein
The American lease of the Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein
Atoll is running out. The landowners wanted more money
($11.3 million per annum isn't enough) and a 50-year
renewal. The U.S. wanted a 40-year extension and it
probably would be willing to pay almost any amount
of taxpayer dollars to secure its most important missile
testing facility in the world.
What terms did they agree on? An 83-year lease at
a cost to taxpayers of 1.1 billion in direct land
rental, community development assistance and environmental
"protection." Starting on October 1, the rental payments
will go up to $15 million annually with a further
increase to $18 million starting in 2014. Both amounts
are to be adjusted upwards to 67 percent of actual
inflation. Not surprisingly, landowners are critical
of the current system because the annual rental goes
to about 70 traditional leaders for distribution.
END OF PART THREE - Sealed travel expense account
records? Are you thinking what we're thinking? Who's
minding the store? Stay tuned to www.twistedbadge.com
Sherry O'Sullivan has been an investigative journalist
for more than 30 years.Until recently, she owned and
operated the only newspaper in the Federated States
of Micronesia.The government illegally expelled her
and closed the newspaper for printing the results
of public audits. Born and raised in Canada, O'Sullivan
spent most of her adult life in other parts of the
world, including the United States. Comments and/or
questions may be sent c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
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