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Whistling in the wind

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Inside the Reef By Joyce McClure

 “The FSM national government solicits patriotism from all citizens: Be a hero. Exercise your rights to be concern [sic] and conscientious by reporting any incident of fraud, abuse, or waste to the public auditor’s hotline.”

  Much like the U.S. government’s famous “We Want You” poster enlisting men and women to join the military, the FSM national government wants you to help stop corruption according to this command on the Office of the Public Auditor’s hotline web page. 

 The latest initiative in the FSM’s campaign to ferret out corruption was the FSM National Anti-Corruption Strategy Workshop & Anti-Corruption Investigations Training held in Palikir from Feb. 27 to March 1.


The FSM Department of Justice teamed up with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime or UNODC to engage stakeholders for the United Nations Convention Against Corruption Review Follow-Up and Implementation Workshop.

The purpose was to “translate proposed strategies into concrete measures that can be implemented effectively in the FSM. This shift towards actionable outcomes underscores the commitment of the FSM to drive substantive change in anti-corruption efforts.”

The meeting was preceded by two country reviews of the FSM’s “implementation of binding obligations” under the UNCAC in 2014 and 2019 after the federal government “assumed a legal obligation to implement concrete anti-corruption measures.”

In 2019, the anti-corruption experts who conducted the country review were from China and Singapore. Discussions involved “the major challenges and roadblocks encountered in domesticating legal obligations set by the UNCAC.”

Seems the fox was given access to the henhouse. It also appears downright duplicitous since China is well known to be at the core of corruption at the national and state levels in FSM for many years.


Denials of improprieties are couched in mutually aggrandizing speeches about the “Great Friendship” the two countries enjoy based on “equality, mutual benefits, openness and sustainability.” Nothing to see here. After all, those whispers about cash, trips, cell phones, alcohol, cars and other “gifts” are nothing more than rumors.

A press release in September 2019 featuring a group photo with the Chinese and Singaporean experts front and center at the close of the country review, announced that the National Anti-Corruption Strategy would be launched later that year.

“Part of the strategy,” the release stated, “includes the development of legislation to support, and implement, anti-corruption initiatives. Examples include a freedom of information law that would give the public access to public information, as well as a ‘Disclosure of Financial Contributions’ law that would require elected public officials to disclose their financial contributions.”

It would take another two years to produce the plan and gain then-President David Panuelo’s signature on it.

In its December 2020 newsletter, the UNODC ran a story titled, “Tackling Corruption, a Key to Recover with Integrity,” which noted the steps taken by the FSM toward its goal to reduce corruption and bribery. The FSM ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2012 and has since undertaken initiatives to achieve transparency and accountability in government. The UN-Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption supported the FSM’s legislative and policy frameworks, which included a National Anti-Corruption Strategy as well as transparency measures establishing freedom of information and whistleblower protection.


In September 2021, Panuelo’s office introduced the Freedom of Information bill to the FSM Congress “to enhance transparency in public service, establish a culture of openness and accountability in government, and encourage the disclosure of information.” Panuelo informed President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations “that FSM will seek to increase media development, engagement and training.”

That same month, Panuelo created the FSM Cyber Security and Intelligence Bureau under the Department of Justice.

In November 2021, Panuelo finally approved the National Strategy of the Federated States of Micronesia in Combatting Corruption. It was distributed to all national departments as well as to the attorneys general and audit offices in each of the four states. No other state officials were on the distribution list.

The wheels were turning.

Then they came to a screeching halt.

Panuelo lost his bid for another term in Congress in March 2023 following his now famous 13-page letter calling out Beijing’s efforts to bribe and bully Micronesian leaders. In the letter that made headlines around the world, he recommended that FSM distance itself from China, “which has demonstrated a keen capability to undermine our sovereignty, rejects our values, and uses our elected and senior officials for their own purposes.”

Panuelo’s chair was still warm when newly elected President Wesley Simina sat down in it and promptly overturned his predecessor’s anti-corruption initiatives. He then welcomed the Chinese ambassador for another grip-and-grin photo in the presidential office following Congress’s adoption of a resolution reaffirming the FSM’s one-China policy.

The FSM’s national and state leaders made a show of transparency in their inauguration speeches. Some are making a public show of it by livestreaming cabinet meetings and legislative sessions. But the curtain is firmly closed behind them.

The national auditor’s hotline is also mainly for show, a checkmark to appease the UNODC. In fact, while the FSM’s audit reports make note of financial discrepancies, few if any of those in charge of the audited agencies have ever been punished with anything more than a light slap on the wrist delivered in writing in the audit report. Accountability is non-existent.

Corruption continues to be hidden in plain sight.

On the small islands of Micronesia where people are related in some way, they know it’s prudent to remain silent if they want to keep their jobs. Many are secondary recipients of the largess from those in power who accept China’s gifts. Retribution can be harsh for whistleblowers and the court refuses to get involved, opting to bury such matters under the rubric of the national and state constitutions’ “traditions and culture.”

The FSM as a whole continues to play the game knowing there will be no consequences while sending whistleblowers like Panuelo into home exile.

Joyce McClure is a former senior marketing executive and former Peace Corps volunteer in Yap. Transitioning to freelance writing, she moved to Guam in 2021 and recently relocated back to the mainland. Send feedback to 



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