President Toribiong began the year under review with an "Open Letter to the People," a sort of economic manifesto, outlining what he plans to accomplish over the course of his administration. Relying heavily on Palau's National Master Development Plan, the president advocated a shift in economic activity from the public to private sector, strengthening government agencies, identifying financing strategies, revising Palau's foreign investment law, and gradually reducing the size of government. He concluded, "As our government's revenues grow due to increased private sector economic activity, and as savings are realized by downsizing of our government, I intend to direct more and more funding into education, health care, public safety, and maintenance of our infrastructure" (TB, 13-18 July 2009, 12).
Vice President Kerai Mariur, who is also minister of finance, remained busy with money matters. The National Emergency Committee, which he chairs, finalized the Palau National Disaster Risk Management Framework. Mariur also worked with emergency specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and Division of Strategic National Stockpile in holding a hands-on, "real emergency" workshop for officials from Palau, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
During the year, Toribiong made a key cabinet change, replacing the forthright and assertive Sandra Pierantozzi with Victor Yano, MD, as his minister of state.
A tug-of-war occurred between the Acting Independent Counsel/Special Prosecutor Michael Copeland and the attorney general's office over the Pacific Savings Bank scandal. As discussed in previous reviews (see Shuster 2007, 2008, 2009), the bank collapsed in November 2006 after being declared insolvent due to insiders' loans, fraud, and outright theft. At the time the bank was placed under receivership there were some 7,000 depositors, with accounts valued at more than $20 million. Many of these depositors have received payouts from the receiver, who borrowed money from the government of Palau to make the payments; however, since large depositors still have not been compensated, the bank issue has become very sensitive. As acting independent counsel and special prosecutor, Copeland had possession of the assets and work product relating to the 2006 failure of the bank. Copeland and the attorney general accused and counter accused one another of ethics violations in relation to the case. Apparently the issue was resolved when Copeland resigned and departed from Palau in September. What happens to the bank's remaining 641 depositors, who were cheated of some $18 million, remains to be resolved. They are concerned that payment to the bank's receiver and collections attorney may eat up a sizable portion of their $18 million. President Toribiong met with the depositors in April 2010 and the depositors welcomed the president's commitment to revive the bank (TB, 12-18 April 2010, 1, 15).
President Toribiong was busy with many international activities during the year. He met with the other freely [End Page 199] associated states' presidents in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. They issued a comprehensive communiqué at the conclusion of their meeting that included statements about the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future; airport improvements; the Pacific Plan, which emphasizes climate change and energy initiatives; the Hokkaido Declaration, whereby Japan will deliver assistance to be maximized by the Micronesian governments; policies for enhanced mitigation of climate change; and several other matters. Toribiong led his government in discussions with US military officials in the Palau-US Joint Committee meetings, which have taken place nearly every year since 1994. Perhaps the most significant issues discussed were the Uighurs (who were then still in detention at Guantanamo); the Myanmar refugees in Palau; annual security updates to Palau; and the sharing of surveillance information.
In September, Toribiong spoke to the United Nations (UN) and referenced his remarks to ongoing global issues of climate change, environmental degradation, and the global financial crisis (TB, 28 Sept-4 Oct 2009, 1, 15). He emphasized efforts being made by the Micronesian states in Green Energy Micronesia, whereby the Islands are seeking to expand efforts in spreading renewable energy methodologies. He also offered Palau as a national shark sanctuary for the world as a response to shark finning. Finally, Toribiong...