Johnson Toribiong, Palau’s former president is seeking a return to power. He is among the four candidates vying for the presidency of Palau in the September elections. A lawyer by profession, Toribiong served as president of Palau from 2009 to 2013. He was born in Arai on July 22, 1946 and attended the College of Guam from 1965 to 1966. He holds a juris doctor degree and a master of laws from the University of Washington School of Law. He served as Palau’s ambassador to Taiwan from 2001 to 2008.
Toribiong is running against the sitting vice president Raynold Oilouch Jr., Alan Seid and Surangel Whipps Jr. This is the second in a series of the Pacific Island Times’ Q&A with Palau’s presidential candidates.
Pacific Island Times: What inspired you to run for president again?
Johnson Toribiong: I decided to run sometime in late July 2019, but did not make it known to my family and relatives until I surprised them in a small but broadcasted gathering at the Palasia Hotel on Sept. 20, 2019. My political campaign is Dolngeseu el kot eng mor tirkel ngesoul (“To serve first the least among us)."
I am running as president by my sense of concern for the future of my country, which I felt was evolving into a nation whose citizens are leaving in pursuit of an American dream while foreign workers are increasingly coming to replace them. This was evident by the fact that our leaders spend time and money to seek their political support on Saipan, Guam and the United States. The trend of emigration is continuing. In the last five years, the resident population of Palauans has dropped by about 5,000. I was concerned that Palau may simply become a nation to a majority of Palauans who live abroad so, as a result, our culture and tradition will be adulterated by foreign influence and Palau will ultimately become a nation to most Palauans only in their minds.
Pacific Island Times: Please tell us about your platform.
Johnson Toribiong: My social and economic programs cover the cost of living--minimum wage versus the buying power and combination of the two, build affordable and low-cost housing for young Palauan couples, honorarium for [the] elderly, option to enroll in social security program by infants, youth corps for unskilled youth, public land leases to continue until their expiration; reform foreign investment law and regulations to make Palau more investment friendly, joint venture, subsidiaries of major corporations, and open sky policy and more.
Under public infrastructure, my programs include the following: Build renewable solar and sea current energy systems, require states to build public parks, improve government buildings, build a dormitory for students from outlying states, coral reef road in cooperation with Koror state, public transportation between Koror and the capitol in Melekeok, initiate the construction of a huge dam for our public water system, build or renovate prison facilities, install CCTV at the airport, sea port, and prison, green revolution, make benefits like health care available for U.S. military veterans in Palau, and more.
Under government policies, my platform includes the public service based on merit system, transparency, repeal special prosecutor act and strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman working with the Attorney General, strengthen the office of NARC and reform the law on illegal drugs, reform land court, and more.
Pacific Island Times: Aside from being the past president of Palau, did you have other prior political experience?
Johnson Toribiong: I was elected from Palau to be one of its delegates to the Micronesian Constitutional Convention in 1975, which drafted what is now the Constitution of the Federated States of Micronesia. I was elected the following year to serve in the previous local Palau District Legislature in 1976. I was elected to the Palau Constitutional Convention in 1979, which drafted what became Palau’s Constitution, which was adopted on July 9, 1980. I became its vice president. I was elected Senator and Floor Leader of the First Olbiil era Kelulau (Palau National Congress) and served in that office from 1981-1984. I became President Tommy E. Remengesau’s first ambassador to the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2000-2008, and was elected president of Palau from 2009-20013.
Pacific Island Times: What is your biggest achievement in the political arena of Palau?
Johnson Toribiong: I think my biggest achievements in the political arena were when I signed into law the National Healthcare Act on May 7, 2010 (Palau National Health Insurance) to promote the health and social welfare of our citizens through a national financing system; when I signed into effect the $250 million First Compact Review Agreement with the United States on Sept. 3, 2010; and when I signed into law the International Shipping Registry Act during my presidency, which established an international shipping authority to register ships, which would then fly Palauan flags and generate revenues for Palau.
Pacific Island Times: What particular policies/programs/projects in the current administration do you wish to improve?
Johnson Toribiong: I wish to reform our foreign investment law, which restricts foreign investments to Palau. I will make Palau an investment friendly nation so that we can grow our private sector to the same level as our public sector. This would create more employment and business opportunities for our people and may reverse the trend of emigration of our people to the United States and bring them home. I would also improve the public service system to make it competitive and free from political considerations and nepotism-free, so that Palau can field the best team of government employees.
Pacific Island Times: What will be the focus of the Toribiong administration?
My platform speaks for itself. One of the slogans on my campaign ads is this: “To make Palau Happy, Healthy and Proud Again.” My focus is to invite investors to Palau, explore for oil, promote gaming investments (not on-land gambling), and launch an aggressive program to build houses to any Palauan whose problem is housing, most especially the young couples, in the form of a combination of grants and loans. Palau has been promoted as “Pristine Paradise,” which has mansions. As such, we should at least have decent homes for every family that meet the minimum international standards. When I’m done, I’d like the Palauans to have a home and be happy, healthy and proud again, and that our people will be pursuing and living the Palauan, not the American, dream..
Pacific Island Times: What do you think is your edge over your opponents?
Johnson Toribiong: I have the most experience, qualifications and records of accomplishments to show that my promises will be fulfilled— not empty promises. I often remind the Palauans not to sell their God-given right to vote, and to think hard before they vote, especially for the rich candidates, as economic power coupled with political power tend to create oligarchy.