FSM state independence push unfounded
An expert on Micronesia says the threat of a break away of the Chuuk state from the Federated States of Micronesia is a huge surprise.
An expert on Micronesia says the threat of a break away of the Chuuk state from the Federated States of Micronesia comes as a huge surprise but seems to have little substance.
A vote on whether to seek independence scheduled for March the 3rd has been postponed indefinitely by the Chuuk governor, Johnson Elimo, to allow for more consultation and awareness on the issue.
The former director of a research group, the Micronesian Seminar, Father Fran Hezel, told Koroi Hawkins the movers of a planned independence vote have not offered an alternative framework for governance in a country already heavily reliant on American grants.
FRAN HEZEL: First of all, we were all surprised to hear of this independence referendum, we had no previous notion that Chuuk was interested in independence because as a matter of fact they were one of the strong supporters for FSM -- that's the Federated States of Micronesia, initially. The pushback against FSM was really from Pohnpei, they voted against an agreement -- that goes back about 25 or 30 years ago when FSM first started, and Yap has been making noises about joining Palau recently. It's separated by distance and other things too; cultural features from the rest of FSM. So we were surprised that this came up in Chuuk because Chuuk seemed like the state without any real issues.
KOROI HAWKINS: The vote was scheduled for the 3rd of March, it was postponed by the governor of Chuuk who says he wants more consultation, more awareness. So it seems from that and from what you were saying that there could be divided views within Chuuk about this vote.
FH: There are very divided views on it, I think most of the Chuukese I've spoken to and heard from are very much against it because this thing came up from nowhere, it seems. It came up and it wasn't supported by a whole lot of data. People in Chuuk on this committee supporting this independence movement weren't offering suggestions for what they're going to do, you know, after independence; whether they're going to try to get an affiliation with China, let's say, or whether they'll try to establish a new compact with the US, none of this has really been addressed as far as I know. The other question that hasn't been addressed is is it really in the power of any of the states to separate at this point? I suppose you can say that any place has a right to secede. But has it been thought out adequately and have people been prepared for this and is there any reason for it? These are the questions that keep coming up and these are the questions that put off a lot of people who might otherwise be supportive for an independent Chuuk.
KH: And I understand that this is all coming to light because of the end of the compact with the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia are coming up in 2023 I think it is?
FH: That's right, the compact of free association will continue until one side or the other -- the FSM or the US -- decides to pull out. But the funding for this compact is supposed to end in 2023. By that time a trust fund is supposed to kick in and, at least in theory, it was supposed to provide the same amount of money that the US provided the year before in 2022. That's not going to happen because the trust fund was invested late and returns weren't as good as was expected. So there's going to be a real serious bump there.
KH: And how much do the Federated States of Micronesia rely on the US compact for their survival?
FH: The FSM relies on the US for about 65 percent of its income. And none of these places, not the FSM, not the Marshall Islands, the situation is a little different in Palau because of the fact it's a tourist destination that's become quite popular. But in neither of these other places is there really much of a hope for self-reliance.
KH: Finally, just your final views on the whole idea of independence.
FH: I would say that we're looking for a motive. This came out of nowhere. And I'm wondering whether this doesn't stem from two things. One is the fact that Chuuk is disappointed that it's not getting more support from FSM, that's always been an issue because Chuuk's population is about half of FSM's but it doesn't get anywhere near half of the collective funding. And of course fishing licence fees have increased greatly over the last five or six years but none of the states is sharing in this right now. Second thing is I'm wondering whether Chuuk has been taking offence at things that have been said about Chuuk by other people, other states in the nation. I'm wondering whether, perhaps, they don't feel a bit insulted, a bit put aside or treated as though they were the misbehaving brother in the family. Sometimes I get a sense that this is not just economic, but it's also personal.
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