Yap’s only two lawyers in the state’s Office of the Attorney General have resigned effective immediately due to the recent conflict between the Yap State Legislature and Gov. Henry Falan over their compensation.
“I am very sorry to see it come to this,” Falan said following the resignation of Eliesa Tuiloma and Tevita Toloi Muloilagi, who are both from Fiji.
“I relied on these two highly qualified, experienced professionals, as did my cabinet. We cannot govern the State of Yap without a fully-staffed legal office and without the legislature’s approval of the budget for that office.”
The clash resulted in the legislature’s failed attempt to remove Falan from office in October.
"In all my many years of public service, I have never seen Yap’s government in this type of situation,” the governor said. “I would like to meet and talk things out, but the legislature needs to come to the table. So far they have not done that despite my repeated invitations.”
Another search will be conducted but the proposed salary raise for the two positions has not been approved for FY22.
Upon his inauguration in January 2019, Falan named the late Rachelle Bergeron acting attorney general when the prior acting AG resigned.
Bergeron had informed Falan that she intended to leave Yap at the end of her contract the following year. A search for candidates to fill the position immediately began. But the salary of $24,000 proved to be a deterrent to attracting qualified professionals.
Falan approached Tuiloma, who was then legal counsel at the Chuuk State Legislature, to determine his availability, but the Fijian attorney declined the job offer due to the low salary.
When Bergeron was murdered in October 2019, there were still no candidates to fill the open positions and the small office was left with no experienced lawyers on staff.
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Falan then decided to consolidate the four open positions into two, allowing the government of Yap to offer a more competitive salary.
The governor was finally able to hire Muloilagi for the assistant AG position. Muloilagi was sworn in 16 months after Falan’s inauguration.
The hiring process for the assistant AG position does not require approval from the legislature.
While the search continued for an AG, Falan approached Tuiloma again, initially hiring him as an assistant AG to sidestep legislative approval. He was sworn in 20 months after Falan took office.
Falan later submitted Muloilagi’s name to the legislature for the position of attorney general and the senators gave their approval.
The consolidation of four positions into two came to light in May when Falan submitted a request for supplemental funding for the two seats.
Although both sides agreed there was enough money in the budget, Falan’s action was rejected by the legislature’s finance committee.
Tuiloma and Muloilagi were not paid for five pay periods, or nearly two and a half months, as a result of the budget stalemate between the two branches of government, forcing Falan to close the office for a short period of time in September.
Falan's action set the stage for the legislature’s attempt to remove him from office claiming he did not have the authority to close the office.
Soon after Tuiloma arrived to take up his new position, Sen. John Mafel went to Tuiloma’s home after hours and informed him about the legislature’s impending decision to recall Falan from office. Mafel is at the center of the two failed attempts against the governor.
Tuiloma informed the governor of the visit and assured him that he did not intend to be involved in local politics; he was there to provide legal advice and recommendations only.
During the months leading up to the final hiring of the two attorneys, Mafel also accused Falan of not actively searching to fill the positions, blaming the inability to find qualified candidates on the governor.
The legislature has refused repeated requests to speak with the Pacific Island Times.