Palau Correspondent

President Surangel Whipps Jr. takes the oath of office on Jan. 21. Looking on were first lady Valerie Whipps and his son, Arthur. Administering the oath is Chief Justice Oldias Ngiraikelau.

KOROR, Palau — As president, Surangel Whipps Jr. will prioritize economic recovery and prosperous benefits for the Palauan people.  

Whipps was sworn in as the new leader of Palau on Jan. 21, succeeding his brother-in-law, former President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr.

“In the coming days, we will be asking the Olbiil Era Kelulau (Palau Congress) to take action on a series of bills that will help rebuild our economy and refocus our government. I urge the OEK to act expeditiously to help make these bills law. The sign of our economy is more than just … our gross domestic product, it is the reach of our prosperity; it is our ability to extend opportunity — not handouts — to every eager Palauan,” Whipps said in his first inaugural speech.

Whipps, a former senator, and businessman [president and CEO of Surangel and Sons Co.] during campaign sorties promised to prioritize issues at home when he took the top post.

“Now, it’s time to link a strong economy with strong government services. It’s time to revisit our tax code, to strengthen our revenue base. It’s time to find new synergies and new, efficient workflows. It’s time to streamline regulation. It’s time to reprioritize some services and tune-up government operations. It’s time to do more with less. It’s time to ensure that all Palauans have their basic needs and their families’ basic needs met, with access to clean water, reliable electricity, and safe home with internet access,” he said.

He also is pinning hopes of taking the economy on track to the vaccination rollout and is optimistic that Palau will be one of the first countries to have its entire population vaccinated.

“And we remain COVID-19 free thanks to the generous, tireless assistance of the United States. We remain COVID-19 free because the United States, for the purpose of COVID-19, has treated Palau like one of its own. From the U.S. CARES Act to the vaccines, we are administering each day, the United States has never forgotten Palau. It is with their help that we have vaccinated 2,000 people, it will be with their help that we will vaccinate the rest of our population. And it is with their help that we are ready, now to begin a swift recovery,“ Whipps said.

He also announced plans of a “sterile corridor” or a  travel bubble with Taiwan.

He said the bubble will “revitalize personal, medical, educational, and business relationships between our countries. It will boost Palau’s economy, in our time of desperate need. Perhaps most of all, it will show the world the strength, and depth, of this bilateral partnership. For the purposes of COVID-19, a trip through the new sterile corridor will be like taking a domestic flight.”

 Whipps also promised to entice Paluans studying and living abroad to come home and take part in the country’s development, vowing a better education and healthcare system and higher wages.

“It’s time to strengthen Palau’s workforce and foster a new generation of entrepreneurs to seize the economic opportunities Palau has to offer. The government’s role should not be to provide a hand-out, but a hand-up! It should create an environment where people have the ability and opportunity to choose to succeed. We have increased opportunities for higher education, with scholarships and programs all around the world,” he said.

He also promised to develop other industries aside from tourism, recognized that as a tourism-dependent nation, Palau despite being COVID-free did not escape the economic woes of the pandemic.

“The first hard lesson we got from the pandemic is that a democratic nation cannot survive without a healthy and diversified economy. Reliance exclusively on tourism leaves us vulnerable to the type of economic shock that we are now experiencing,” he said.

Days prior to his oath of office, Whipps also named nominees to a few key posts in his administration.

Whipps named Kaleb Udui Jr. as his appointee to the Ministry of Finance and current Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industries & Commerce, with Charles Obichang, to remain as a minister.

Udui was formerly President Remengesau’s policy advisor and also formerly served as president of the National Development Bank of Palau. Obichang has been MPIIC minister during the Remengesau years and was tapped again by Whipps to stay in his post.

Both have to be confirmed by Congress.

Vice President J. Uduch Sengebau Senior was sworn in by Associate Justice Kathleen Salii.
Photos by Richard Brooks

As of press time, Whipps has not named other appointees and earlier said former President Ngiratkel Etpison did not have ministers for two years.

Whipps also announced that Vice President J. Uduch Sengebau Senior will be the administration’s State Minister. As an elected official, Sengebau does not have to get confirmation from the Senate.

The president named Landisang Kotaro to be his Chief of Staff. Kotaro, age 34, is the first woman to hold that position. mbj