Colonia, Yap— The Exhibition Travel Group (ETG), a Chinese company that had proposed to build a mega-resort in Yap, came with lots of promises without any clear plan, Gov. Henry Falan said.
“And to this day I still have not seen a plan,” the governor added in response to a student’s question about the company during a meeting with a group of 8th grade social studies students on Wednesday to give them an in-person lesson on how government works.
ETG’s chairman Deng Hong and his party first came to Yap more than eight years ago on a private jet to discuss his company’s proposal with Sebastian Anefal, then the state’s governor, and the state legislature. After serving time in a Chinese prison for various crimes, Deng Hong returned to Yap on Jan, 22, 2018 to continue discussions with Tony Ganngiyan, by then the state’s governor and Falan’s predecessor and opponent in the 2018 election.
A few landowners entered into 99-year land leases with ETG. However, some wanted to void their agreements after realizing that payment was not a lump sum upwards of $200,000 or more as they were led to believe, but spread out over the 99 years.
“But there was one phrase in their presentation that said it all – ‘when feasible,’” Falan told the students. “That means they may never do anything if it’s not feasible for them.”
Falan has not been shy about telling people that he is not keen on ETG’s proposal for Yap.
During his Q&A with the students and their principal, MaeLynn Tiningdow, of the Dalipebinaw Elementary School, the governor told them about his sustainable development plans involving local investors and a new telecommunications business that he is bringing to Yap, and that is owned by a native son of the island.
“That is the future,” Falan said. “We will have homes, businesses and schools hooked up to good, reliable internet service.”
The students nodded enthusiastically when he noted that the company intends to provide an internet café that will offer free service for all students.
The second priority that Falan explained is transportation. He asked which students had been to Yap’s Outer Islands. Only one boy held up his hand. He had been to Ulithi, he said.
The governor said it was a shame that students on the main island study about Europe and the United States but don’t know anything about their own neighbors.
He then told them about his efforts to get reliable sea transportation for the neighboring islands and his frustration at attempting to get President David Panuelo to include the governor’s task force in the planning and design of a ship to replace the aging MV Haplimohol 1.
After learning that China had been given the contract to build the ship, the only communication Falan received from the national government asked what color he wanted the ship to be painted and what name it should be given. Falan refused to answer their questions, he told the students.
The 11 young citizens, aged 13 to 15, sitting around the long conference table came prepared with questions for the governor and Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu.
“What are your priorities?” one read from her notes.
“What are you going to do about Yap’s environment?” another queried.
“What’s your role as governor?” inquired the young girl sitting quietly at the end of the large table.
“That’s a very good question,” the governor replied to each one before giving his response.
“The role of government is to be responsive to the needs of the people they serve,” Falan said. “The basic goal of government is to improve the lives and welfare of the people. And,” he added, “you must hold us accountable.”
He told the students that questions like theirs from Yap’s citizens let him know what the people want to know and inform him and his cabinet members about what changes are needed.
Lt. Governor Salalu replied to the question about the environment by telling the students that it is one of the most important things that the people of Yap must protect for their health and wellbeing.
He said there are many agencies at the state and national levels working together on climate initiatives and noted that the administration in Washington DC strongly supports the need to counter climate change. The Yapese must do their part, as well, Salalu advised.
Explaining how Yap’s government is made up of four branches – administrative, legislative, judicial and the two traditional councils – Falan told the students about his personal path into government service from his humble, poor childhood raised by a single mother to the state legislature where he served as a senator, and finally to the position of governor.
He also told them about his passion for the work that he has done throughout his career. “I’m so excited to have you visit us today,” he said. “I love education! In fact,” he added, “I was the director of the Department of Education” several years ago, encouraging the students to think about what their own passions and interests are and to begin preparing for what they will do after they graduate. “Life is about knowing yourself,” he advised.
As the meeting wound down, Falan told the students that he had promised transparency, honesty and accountability when he ran for office. He asked them to tell anyone who questions what he is doing to come meet with him. It is his way to be direct. “I never say anything about anyone that I would not say to them directly,” he told them as his last lesson of the day.
The class will be visiting the legislative and judicial branches of the government in the coming weeks.