The Senate in a rare night session held last Saturday, voted 8 to 4 approving House Bill No. 10-38-2-HD4, SD2, PD1 authorizing the renovation and expansion of the Palau Inter-national Airport in Airai at the cost of $24.5M to be undertaken through a joint venture between Palau government and Japan Airport Management Partners. The bill which authorizes the President to sign the necessary agreements without further approval of the Congress, also has a rider appropriating $35,000 for Mechesil Belau's 25th Annual Conference.
When the bill was first sent to the President, it had provisions requiring approval of the OEK after signing so on July 28, Remengesau referred back to the OEK the measure stating that an added provision on the bill will jeopardize the contract signing that will pave the way for the project to expand the air-port. Earlier he had said Palau is already heavily involved in negotiations with a Japanese consortium concerning a possible public-private partnership to upgrade and expand the airport . The project, he said is supported by the Japanese government through a possible assistance in the form of funding for the project through one of its public agencies, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The signing ceremony for the joint venture agreement which was originally set for August 1, has been reset for Monday, August 7. The con-cession agreement signing is scheduled for August 21, 2017. Six newly minted minority senators on Thursday sought a conduct of public hearing prior to the discussion on the measure citing that members of the Senate should be more transparent in tackling the bill. They mounted valiant last minute efforts through newspaper publications and TV appearances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to delay action on the bill by demanding for transparency and public hearing on the bill and agreements involved which were not disclosed to them. However a public hearing was not held and instead a special session was called on August 5 in an apparent attempt to meet the deadline of the scheduled signing of the joint venture agreement between the Japanese companies and the Palau government to start the project. The vote was finally called and the four minority Senators present-Uduch Senior, Camsek Chin, Regis Akitaya, and Rukebai Inabo voted NO while one Mason Whipps- was off-island and the other Phillip
Reklai, who is a loyal supporter of the President, voted YES with the majority. The seven in majority are Hokkons Baules, Mark Rudimch, Kerai Mariur, John Skebong, Steven Kuartei, Frank Kyota and Aric Nakamura.
Earlier, the House of Delegates had approved and sent to the Senate a version of the bill without further approval of the Congress once the President signs the two agreements with the Japanese. However, the Senate added further OEK approval after presidential signature and sent it to the President who then sent it back as PD1 arguing that the lawmakers had pre-approved his negotiating and signing the agreements with two separate prior resolutions from the two houses and there will be no need for a third approval.. The serious concern raised by the minority is that the two agreements, one of which is said to be 309 pages have not made disclosed to the senators and the public while they are being approved. They also questioned why the bill was passed without a public hearing and why it took the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to act on the measure when HOD had already tackled and passed on first reading the bill by-May 25, 2017.
Some inority senators also questioned why the Senate Committee only acted on the measure on July 20 when there are deadlines supposed to be met by the Executive Branch in signing of the agreement. Some members of the minority bloc also raised concerns that several senators were left in the dark about the measure or what the contract and agreement contained.