Congress pass $64 million - National budget; $70million - Trust Fund

PALIKIR, POHNPEI. October 5, 2018- The Fifth Regular Session of the 20th Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia adjourned sine die on Tuesday with the passage of measures to address national issues among which included the FY-2019 National Budget, and substantial measures for security and efficiency of the Nation’s Trust Fund, among many others.

Leading the measures on the FSM Trust Fund was an override of the presidential veto of Congressional Act (CA) 20-101, an Act aimed to secure funding for the FSM Trust Fund by collecting a certain percentage from the fishing fees and the revenues collected under the major corporation scheme or the MRA (Micronesia Registration Advisors, Inc.) scheme.  The President had vetoed the Act for technical reasons and with the amendments made to Titles 55 and 54 of the FSM Code, the Act was overridden and returned to the President who signed it into Public Law No. 20.130.  The new law requires 20% of all collected fishing fees and 50% of tax imposed on the taxable income of major corporations under the MRA scheme be deposited into the FSM Trust Fund.

The Congress then passed CA 20-140 to address technical areas of the FSM statutes and further clarify the funding sources for the FSM Trust Fund.  It also set the requirement on fishing fees to be effective October 1, 2019.

Another Act that infused funding into the FSM Trust Fund was CA 20-120, through which the Congress appropriated a supplemental budget of $73,140,000 for FY2018. The main bulk of the supplemental, $ 70 million was appropriated for the FSM Trust Fund while the remaining balance was allocated to the various outstanding and urgent needs of the National Government.

With the source of funding for the FSM Trust Fund addressed, the Congress then turned its focus on a trio of measures designed to streamline the process whereby the Boards of both the FSM Trust Fund and the Compact Trust Fund are to be nominated.

Through the first measure CA 20-134, the Congress vested all powers of the Board of Directors of the FSM Trust Fund in the President while the Board is not constituted.

The second measure changed the requirements for the FSM’s two representatives to the Joint Trust Fund Committee. According to Public Law 15-70, the two representatives would be one from the National Government appointed by the President while the other from the private sector.  Through CA 20-135, the Congress called for both representatives to the Joint Trust Fund Committee to be appointed by the President based on the set qualifications.

Finally in the FSM Trust Fund - series of three, is an Act to change the composition of the Board of Trustees for the FSM Trust Fund. During the conception of the FSM Trust Fund Act in 1997, which became Public Law 10-150, the idea of the FSM Trust Fund Board of Trustees had called for a five-member Board from all five governments.  However, since its inception, the Board never formally materialized nor formally instituted.The Congress therefore passed CA 20-137, to call upon the President to appoint all five Trustees and mandated the Secretary of Finance and Administration to be one of the Trustees.

A measure substantial to the operations of the FSM Government was the passage of CA 20-130, which appropriated $ 64, 819,927 as the National Government budget for fiscal year 2019. The amount is to fund operations of all branches of the National Government, its agencies, various programs along with the Grants, Subsidies and Contributions upon which various organizations throughout the Nation rely. In addition to general operations, the Act would also fund the National Government areas of Capital and Human Resources Development.

Along with the budgetary measures, the Congress passed CA 20-122, to appropriate the sum of $ 200,000 for the purpose of funding relief efforts in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands due to damages caused by Typhoon Mangkhut. In early September, Typhoon Mangkhut had swept through the Micronesian region with damaging effects mostly on Guam and the CNMI.  The Act has been signed into law as Public Law 20-121.

Congressional Act 20-132was passed in accordance to Article XIV of the FSM Constitution, which calls for a convention at least every 10 years. Through the Act, the President is directed to submit during the general elections of March 5, 2019, the question: ”Shall there be a Convention to revise or amend the Constitution?”

Through CA 20-136, the Congress called for the establishment of a Competent Authority to address the requirements of the European Union (EU) tuna market.  The EU is among the most lucrative tuna markets in the world and has very strict seafood regulations controlling the importation of tuna from around the world. The Competent Authority would carry out the monitoring, verification procedures and certification of tuna caught and processed in the FSM to meet the EU standards.

And finally, the Congress passed CA 20-139 to provide housing allowance eligibility for off-island recruits to the public service sector positions within the National Government.

In line with its initiative that started in FY-2015 to assist the states with their priority infrastructure projects, the Congress passed CA 20-138 to appropriate $14 million to fund priority infrastructure projects in the states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap.

Through CA 20-129, the Congress appropriated $7 million from the FSM General Fund for the purpose of funding public projects and social programs for the people of the states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap.

The remainder of the Acts addressed grass root level projects and social programs in the four states to make either changes to the use of funds previously appropriated or to make changes to the allottees of said funds or just changes to the lapse date of the funds.

Through the following Acts: CA 20-118, CA 20-119, CA 20-123, CA 20-124, CA 20-125 and CA 20-133, the Congress extended the lapse dates of funds previously appropriated for certain public projects and social programs in each of the four states.

To change the allottee of funds previously appropriated for public projects and social programs in the four states, the Congress passed the following Act which were state specific: CA 20-121 changed allottee of funds previously appropriated for Yap; CA 20-126 changed allottee of certain line items in Chuuk; and CA 20-127 changed the use of funds previously appropriated for Kosrae.

The final two Acts addressed change of allottees and change use of funds previously appropriated for public projects and social programs in the states of Pohnpei and Kosrae through CA 20-128, and in the states of Pohnpei and Yap through CA 20-131.

All the Congressional Acts have been transmitted to the President to be signed into law.