In March of last year, the 4th Federated States of Micronesia Constitutional Convention was recessed after 27 days. It is imperative that it be reconvened as quickly as possible, and that substantive issues of importance to the citizens of the FSM be addressed and proposed.
The current convention came together on Jan. 7, 2020, with 24 delegates from the four states, but the recess was called on March 13 “to ensure the health and safety of the delegates and staff.” It is to be reconvened “when the pandemic has ended, and it is once again safe to hold large meetings.”
With Zoom conferencing used daily for national congressional meetings, public hearings of state legislatures and everyday meetings, there is no excuse to wait until travel can resume for ConCon to begin again. (As of this writing, no date has been set.)
Even more important is the need for the representatives to address matters of great importance to the people of the nation. So far, only two proposed amendments have been adopted. With a little more than two weeks left in this convention, time is of the essence.
Among those issues are the following:
1) To elect the president and vice president in a general election by popular vote from any three of the four states, rather than by appointment of congress, with both running on the same ballot. However, one of them must be from one of the smaller states of Yap or Kosrae. This will ensure a more equitable representation of all citizens.
2) Institute term limits for members of Congress to a maximum of eight years retroactive to the date when they were first elected.
It has been argued that term limits are up to the voters who can retain or toss out elected officials.
But according to an article titled “The FSM Constitution and the 2001 Constitutional Convention” by former FSM President John R. Haglelgam, who also served as president of the 2001 convention, “a closer analysis of this issue will show that the incumbents are well entrenched in their elected positions because of the client voters, who have received material benefits in exchange for their support in election after election. In other words, the incumbents are commandeering the resources of the state to retain their elective office. These resources are not available to non-incumbent candidates.
So a level playing field never existed in the political arena in the FSM. In election after election, the political playing field always tipped heavily in favor of the incumbent because of use of public funds to curry favors from voters.”
He continues, “I believe the added political values of term limits for congress are several:
1) it might bring a new breed of politicians to the office with different ideas and ways of doing things and a new vision for the future. It could bring the excitement that might invigorate and animate the political process in creative ways;
2) it might erase the sense of political hopelessness among voters who feel left out of the process; and 3) it would create a genuine political competition among the candidates.”
3) Require the FSM national government's revenues to be shared between the four states 50-50 at a minimum.
Currently, revenues are distributed based on the number of representatives for each state – six in Chuuk, four in Pohnpei, and two each in Kosrae and Yap. In other words, if Congress appropriates $10 million in public project funding, Chuuk receives $6 million, Pohnpei gets $4 million and $2 million each for Kosrae and Yap. Need and priorities are rarely part of the equation. This results in an unequal distribution of funding for infrastructure and other sorely necessary projects.
4) Create an independent office of a special prosecutor or public integrity officer with a term limit of six years, and appoint the officeholder either by popular vote or by recommendation of the states’ public auditors and appointment by the chief justice.
Constitutionally mandated oversight is urgently needed for the FSM attorney general and other members of the senior leadership to ensure they are not sweeping fraud, corruption and other significant issues under the rug. Since the attorney general reports to the president and the congress, he does the bidding of his bosses, which may be in conflict with the best interests of the citizens. An independent officer would be responsible for bringing to light and halting conflicts of interest.
In contrast to these recommended amendments, the first proposed amendment adopted by the 4th ConCon delegates addresses the number of votes required to approve an amendment to the Constitution. They believe that the very high number of votes currently required has prevented important amendments from being adopted and thus, it was important to address this issue first.
The second proposed amendment addresses the requirements for citizenship that include allowing dual citizenship, an issue that has failed to receive a majority approval by voters in past referendums.
This convention has taken place only four times in the last 46 years. In the first three of those assemblies, 43 amendments were proposed but only four were approved and adopted.
As citizens of FSM, it is our right and our job to stand up and speak out to ensure that our representatives at all levels are doing what is in our best interest by addressing the most important issues that will safeguard our future and our children’s future.
In order to realize a true democracy, we must be involved. Unless we are involved, we have no right to complain. Only when we stand up for our democratic rights with actions, voices and deeds can we expect things to change. The time is now to do just that and we can begin with the 4th Constitutional Convention.
Gillian Doone is the former administrator of the FSM Office of Overseas Development Assistance.