Freedom in the World 2009 - Micronesia
|Publication Date||16 July 2009|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2009 - Micronesia, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a64529c28.html [accessed 16 September 2014]|
Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Beginning in August 2008, the United States withheld disbursement of financial assistance to Chuuk state, citing poor internal controls and a lack of accountability. Audits by the Office of the National Public Auditor in August revealed that Chuuk officials had abused the use public funds for travel throughout 2006 and 2007.
The United States administered Micronesia, which included the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island groups, between 1947 and 1979 as a UN Trust Territory. In 1970, the Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, and Palau demanded separate status from Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap; these latter four territories, representing 607 islands, became the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The FSM adopted a constitution and became self-governing in 1979 as the trusteeship expired and status negotiations with the United States continued.
In 1986, the FSM signed its first Compact of Free Association with the United States, which provides the FSM with U.S. economic and defense assistance in exchange for U.S. military bases in the islands. An amended compact, which extends this core commitment for another 20 years, came into effect in 2003. In the first three years of the amended compact, the FSM received $76 million in assistance for education, health, the environment, capacity building, infrastructure, and private sector development; another $16 million goes to a trust fund that is overseen by a joint board of U.S. and FSM trustees. Beginning in the fourth year, an annual decrement of $800,000 from sectoral grants will be reallocated to the trust fund until 2023. For fiscal year 2009, the amount of compact funds for the FSM is $81.6 million. FSM citizens will continue to enjoy visa-free entry to the United States for health services, education, and employment. The amended compact also demands accountability and transparency in how transferred funds are used and managed, something missing in the initial compact.
Compact funds represent one-third of the FSM's national income; the division of the funds has been a source of serious tension in federal-state relations. In 2003, the people of Faichuk island in Chuuk state threatened to leave the federation and seek a separate bilateral treaty with the United States unless Chuuk received a larger share of the compact funds. Other states followed with similar demands. In response, the federal government agreed to increase the share of compact funds transferred to the four states. Citing poor internal controls and accountability, the United States suspended all compact payments to the state of Kosrae in 2007. Disbursements resumed in 2008 after plans for proper financial and management oversight were put in place. An absence of these plans for the state of Chuuk resulted in a similar suspension of U.S. funds effective August 4, 2008.
A new congress was elected in March 2007, and Congress in May chose Emanuel Mori of Chuuk and Alik Alik of Kosrae as president and vice president, respectively. In response to U.S. demands for greater transparency and accountability, Mori's government merged executive office funds to create three new offices: the Office of Statistics, Budget, Overseas Development Assistance and Compact Management; the Office of National Archives, Culture and Historical Preservation; and the Office of Environment and Emergency Management Agency. It also created a new Department of Education (separating it from the Department of Health and Social Affairs) and a new Department of Resources and Development.
In August 2008, audits by the Office of the National Public Auditor(ONPA) revealed that public officials had abused government funds for travel throughout 2006 and 2007. ONPA recommended improvements in record keeping and per diem disbursements, as well as finding alternatives to flying large number of civil servants off of the FSM for training purposes.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The FSM is an electoral democracy. The unicameral, 14-member Congress has one directly elected representative, serving four-year terms, from each of the four constituent states, and 10 representatives directly elected for two-year terms from single-member districts. Chuuk state, home to nearly half of the FSM's population, holds the largest number of congressional seats; this has been a source of resentment among the three smaller states. The president and vice president are chosen by Congress from among the four state representatives to serve four-year terms. By informal agreement, the two posts are rotated among the representatives of the four states. Emanuel Mori of Chuuk and Alik L. Alik of Kosrae were chosen as president and vice president, respectively, in the May 11, 2007 elections. Each state has its own constitution, elected legislature, and governor; the state governments have considerable power, particularly in budgetary matters. Traditional leaders and institutions exercise significant influence in society, especially at the village level. There are no formal political parties, but there are no restrictions on their formation.
Official corruption and abuses are widespread and a major source of voter discontent. In a prominent 2007 case, a former ambassador to the United States faced criminal charges for alleged involvement in a fake passport scam; his case was pending at the end of 2008. The FSM was not rated in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The news media operate freely. Print outlets include government-published newsletters and several small, privately owned weekly and monthly newspapers. Television stations operate in three of the four states. Each state government runs its own radio station, and the Baptist church runs a fifth station. Cable television is available in Pohnpei and Chuuk, and satellite television is increasingly common. Use of the internet is also growing, but low incomes and small populations make it difficult for service providers to expand coverage.
Religious freedom is respected in this mainly Christian country. There are no reports of restrictions on academic freedom, but lack of funds negatively affects the quality of and access to education. Government and society concur on the urgent need to improve education and professional training. When members of the native population are unable or unqualified to fill jobs, foreign workers are hired, causing social tensions.
Freedom of assembly is respected, and citizens are free to organize civic groups. A small number of student and women's organizations are active. No labor unions exist, though there are no laws against their formation. The economy is dependent on fishing, tourism, subsistence agriculture, and U.S. assistance. No specific laws regulate work hours, recognize the right to strike and bargain collectively, or set workplace health and safety standards.
The judiciary is independent, but it lacks funds to improve the functioning of the courts. There is also cultural resistance to using the court system, particularly for sex crimes. In 2006, the police received guidelines and a training workbook for dealing with juvenile offenders and victims as part of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Women enjoy equal rights under the law, including those regarding property ownership and employment. Women generally receive equal pay for equal work and are well represented in the lower and middle ranks of the state and federal governments, although no woman sits in the parliament. In November 2008, a bill was introduced that would designate four seats for women in the national parliament. Social and economic discrimination against women persists in the male-dominated culture. Domestic violence is common, and cases often go unreported because of family pressure, fear of reprisal, or an expectation of inaction by the authorities. Offenders rarely face trial, and those found guilty usually receive light sentences.