- Republic of Palau
The period under review was one that brought about landmark policies and historic moments for the Republic of Palau and for its leadership, including issues related to infrastructure development, climate change, and the ocean. The year brought together both elected and traditional leaders to address issues regarding the welfare of the people. It was also a time of transition as important leaders who had contributed greatly to the country’s national development passed on and others stepped into the political scene to lead as Palau continued [End Page 118] to advance its goals of national development.
The Republic of Palau made an ambitious attempt to further conserve its marine resources through legislation by declaring its waters a national marine sanctuary and closing 80 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (eez) to commercial fishing. Legislation was first introduced in the Senate of the Ninth Olbiil Era Kelulau (oek) by the Honorable Senator Hokkons Baules on 7 March 2013, which precipitated President Tommy Remengesau Jr’s declaration of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. The legislation remained in the Senate until 2015, while the president continuously advocated for its passage by rallying the leadership of Palau behind his vision. On 15 October 2015, the Senate passed the bill on its third and final reading and sent it to the House of Delegates of the oek for consideration.
As the biggest initiative for President Remengesau’s third administration moved through the legislative process, Palau’s leadership welcomed assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts to help with the marine sanctuary campaign. Local community support was part of the campaign, and even the rural villages of Palau participated in the national debate. The additional pressure from local people gained even greater momentum when community members, women’s organizations, and students graced the Palau National Congress wearing “BUL” t-shirts (“bul” is Palauan for moratorium, which is a Palauan traditional conservation method that allows a diminishing resource time to replenish itself) and holding signs promoting the marine sanctuary during Remengesau’s State of the Republic Address in April 2015. Action on the bill was not taken immediately thereafter, but the growing awareness and concern on the part of the community could not be ignored and became the basis of many discussions in leadership meetings.
Procedurally, the bill was originally assigned to the Senate Committee on Resource, Commerce, Trade, and Development, chaired by the Honorable Senator Mason Whipps. The committee reported the bill to the Senate floor and recommended its passage (Senase 2015c), but the report was not adopted and was instead moved to the Senate Committee on Maritime, Environment, and Protected Areas, chaired by the Honorable Senator Mlib Tmetuchl. Before the latter committee took any action on the bill, however, the report from the original committee was recalled to the floor and adopted, which enabled progress leading ultimately to the bill’s passage. Deemed by some to be a controversial measure, the marine sanctuary bill attempted to address some major issues, including environmental conservation and preservation, through a proposed increase in Palau’s environmental impact fee as well as the establishment of a visa requirement for noncitizens who hold passports from countries other than the United States, Federated States of Micronesia, or Republic of the Marshall Islands. These two steps would help alleviate some of the economic loss that would be felt as the fishing revenues began to decline as a result of the law (Senase 2015a). [End Page 119]
While it was being deliberated in the oek, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary bill received growing support regionally and internationally despite the delays for its consideration in the Senate (Island Times 2015b). Neighboring Pacific Island countries including Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Nauru endorsed the marine sanctuary initiative, and the presidents of neighboring Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of the Marshall Islands joined with Palau in calling on the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (pna)—a subregional fisheries arrangement that controls a sizable portion of the lucrative tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean—to support the initiative. Internationally, Palau’s marine sanctuary initiative was supported and...