Palau Correspondent

President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. and Landisang Kotaro, head of his Transition Committee secretariat, during a Dec. 23 press conference.
Photo by Bernadette H. Carreon

KOROR, Palau — President-elect Surangel Whipps Jr. is prioritizing the economic recovery plan for his first 100 days in office.

Whipps is set to be sworn in as Palau’s president on Jan.21. He told reporters in his first press conference on Dec. 23 that restarting tourism for economic recovery is a top priority.

“We have plans to diversify the economy but those take longer time, tourism is quicker,” he said.

He also told reporters that he is proposing a split approach to get tourism back on its feet, since it was devastated by Palau’s border closure.

“We need to have a two-track focus with vaccination and a sterile corridor,” Whipps said.

“Vaccination for the people is of importance for our country’s recovery, whether its economy or more importantly just opening up so families can see each other,” President-elect Whipps said.

“I know people here who haven’t been able to see their families in the states as well as those who haven’t been to return home,” he said.

The Whipps transition economic recovery sub-committee proposed the sterile corridor for safer travel between Palau and Taiwan. Whipps said the concept of the sterile corridor was that Taiwan will be the screening point, where all travelers, no matter where their origin, undergo screening and quarantine in Taiwan first. He said through the sterile corridor, Taiwanese travelers to Palau will travel as to a domestic destination, with no quarantine required. 

However, Whipps said Taiwan has not signed on to the concept, but he is confident that he will convince Taiwan of the safety of the plan.

Part of his recovery plan is to secure the Asian Development Bank loan needed to support the government budget in the next two years.

One of the important bills attached to the loan is the tax reform bill pending before Congress, which Whipps wants to see it enacted into law.

The president-elect is also planning to “re-align” government ministries and this he said is dependent on the final report and road map to be drafted by his Transition Committees and subcommittees. The purpose of the “re-alignment” is to increase accountability and efficiency, he said. In a Dec. 3 press release, Whipps said his Economic Recovery subcommittee is “looking at all the options and avenues to avoid an economic depression and get people back to work and businesses operating again.”

He said his committee is in active consultation with health professionals, experts, and partners to come up with the safest and most effective plan that can keep people safe from COVID-19 and calm fears in the community “while moving forward to revive our tourism industry.” The subcommittee is also continuing dialogue regarding the opportunity for a travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan.

Whipps said he also wants to prioritize Palauans getting more involved in the tourism industry.

”One of the tenets of President-elect’s vision is that Palauans are the driving force behind our country’s development. Thus, the subcommittee also emphasizes that return of tourism will also mean an opportunity to prioritize Palauansin the workforce-A Kot a Rechad er Belau-by empowering them with job opportunities that have normally been acquiesced to foreigners.” mbj