'Time to get our lives back on track'
Whipps sworn in as Palau's new president
Surangel Whipps Jr. was sworn into office as Palau’s new president Thursday, taking over the mantle of responsibility to lift the Pacific nation from economic doldrums that resulted from Covid-related isolation.
Palau is one of the few countries in the world that remain Covid-free. “Now,” Whipps said in his inaugural address, “it’s time to become one of the first countries to recover.”
As Palauans stand in line to be vaccinated, Whipps said the country is ready to reopen its border. As of this week, Palau has used 2,400 vaccines out of the 3,000 delivered by the United States.
“It’s time to get our lives back on track,” he said.
Palau’s accomplishment on the world stage, Whipps said, should be felt at home. “We should see them on our dinner tables; we should feel them in our pockets. That is the next step: it is one that we must make together.”
Whipps succeeded Tommy Remengesau, who handed over the leadership to his brother-in-law during a well-attended inaugural ceremony in the nation’s capital.
“We can do all that we need to do. The way is mapped out for us,” the former senator and businessman said. “The task ahead -- for business, education, public health and economic recovery-- is not to change course but to take the next step.”
The next step, he said, involves strengthening Palau’s ties with its allies.
"The Republic of Palau stands strong with the United States, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and every other member of the international community that supports freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and an unwavering respect for human rights," he said.
When the U.S. launched its Covid-19 response programs, Whipps said Washington “treated Palau as one of its own.”
“The U.S. has never forgotten Palau and it is with its help that we are ready now for our swift recovery,” he said.
He also announced the “sterile corridor” travel arrangement between Palau and Taiwan, which he noted are among the safest destinations in the world.
“Palau and Taiwan became two countries to fully recover since this pandemic,” Whipps said.
Whipps, who was the CEO and president of Surangel & Sons, served as senator from 2008 to 2016.
Though coronavirus-free, Palau's tourism-dependent economy was adversely affected by the border shutdown. Palau currently relies on foreign loans and aid to stay afloat.
Last year, the Asian Development Bank approved a $20 million loan to help Palau deal with the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Palau’s economy is expected to contract by 9.5 percent in 2020 and 12.8 percent in 2021, according to ADB.
Read full story in the February 2021 issue of the Pacific Island Times print edition.