- Republic of Palau
President Johnson Toribiong is the Republic of Palau's eighth president since 1 January 1981. To date, he has traveled abroad extensively and achieved much overseas, and this may have diverted his attention from local problems and issues. He is in the fourth year of his presidency and in 2012 must stand for reelection during September's primary and November's ninth general elections.
On 5 November 2011, a small fire in Palau's main Aimeliik electrical power plant raged out of control, destroying the facility and its capacity to generate electricity. This in turn endangered the water supply to Koror and Airai, impacted Koror's wastewater system, and threatened not only the operation of the National Hospital but also operations at public and private schools and even the activities of the Palau International Airport. President Toribiong declared a national state of emergency and took quick and positive action to restore full electrical power. Like many dramatic actions in Palau, the president's responses were the subject of complaint and questioning and even a lawsuit. But he endured to take other positive steps, and with the advice and consent of the Palau Senate he appointed a new five-member board to oversee the Palau Public Utilities Commission. Electricity was fully restored by Christmas Day.
In November, President Toribiong joined other Pacific Island leaders and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a series of meetings on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in Honolulu. The official White House photo from the Pacific Islands leaders' meeting with President Barack Obama shows President Toribiong standing to Obama's immediate right. The sessions addressed fisheries, natural resources development, climate-change threats, disaster management, and the Pacific region's growing health crisis. Secretary Clinton took the occasion to announce a major US policy shift: a pivot away from the Middle East and toward America's Pacific Century in the Asia-Pacific region. What impact this may have on Palau is unknown. US congressional approval of the Compact Agreement II between Palau and the United States would be an excellent step. That agreement has been languishing in Congress for over a year.
President Toribiong greeted New Year's Day 2012 with an ecumenical "Sunrise Prayer Service for the Nation" at the magnificent national capitol in Ngerulmud. All of Palau's churches took part, and High Chief Reklai closed the services with his advice that what each leader wants must give way to both what is right and what is their responsibility. [End Page 142] Two weeks later the president was in Kayangel, Palau's only atoll, to identify the best locations for twenty solar lights. Kayangel's solar lights are in addition to those installed at the capitol, the International Airport, the National Hospital, the Department of Education, and along Koror's causeways— a step toward reducing Palau's greenhouse gases. Toribiong also participated in the Palau Unity Walk in Ngatpang State, which launched the republic's campaign against non-communicable diseases. This first unity walk was organized by the alumni of Belau Modekngei School as part of the school's thirty-eighth annual anniversary activities.
Also in the New Year, President Toribiong and Japan's Ambassador Yoshiyuki Sadaoka celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge. Completed in January 2002, this magnificent structure, which links the large island of Babeldaob with Koror State, was built with a $25 million grant from Japan. The event was marked with issuance of commemorative postage stamps and a reception. Besides the bridge's great symbolic value, it is critical to Palau's future efforts at achieving economic self-sufficiency. Also contributing to that goal is Japan's ongoing Overseas Development Assistance program. Ambassador Sakaoka presented a blueprint of Japan's assistance to Palau for the next decade.
Soon after the bridge celebration, Mr Toribiong signed a "Memorandum on the Collection Activities of Japanese War Dead," obligating a ministry in Palau to work with a ministry in Japan to restart their efforts to collect remains in Palau, especially on Peleliu. Remains from that island, south of Koror, were repatriated to Japan for final burial at...