A Close Look at the Proposed Amendments to the FSM Constitution
Posted by - francisx
The third FSM Constitutional Convention was convened on November 12, 2001, in the FSM Congress Chamber at the national capital in Palikir. The FSM Congress established this Convention in accordance with the wishes of the majority of voters who voted in the general election in March 1999 to hold a convention to amend the FSM Constitution. As required by Section 2 of Article XIV of the FSM Constitution, this question must be submitted to the voters at least every 10 years. The last constitutional convention was held in 1990. It adopted 25 proposed amendments. Of these, only three were ratified in the 1991 referendum.
This Convention had fourteen delegates who were elected to represent the different states in the same proportion as the congressional representatives for each state. The members were an interesting mix of professional backgrounds; there were four lawyers, three career diplomats, two bankers, two educators, two employees of fishery-related agencies, and one politician. This Convention was perhaps the most amicable gathering of elected leaders since the founding of this country. The members came to the Convention with the stated purpose of (1) enhancing national unity; (2) seeking an equitable distribution of financial resources between the states and the national government; (3) empowering the people to elect their president and vice president; and (4) redressing the perceived abuse of public funds. The fourteen proposed amendments addressed these goals in one form or another.
The fourteen proposals are presented here in numerical order. For each proposal, I begin with a factual discussion and move on to the analysis. In analyzing each proposed amendment, I try to be as impartial and objective as possible. If I come across as passionate and biased, it is not intended. My intention is to present the facts and the analysis in an objective manner so each person can make his or her own informed decision.
I hope you find the discussion and the analysis for each proposal informative and useful. Here are the proposed amendments adopted by the Third FSM Constitutional Convention. The Convention originally set the plebiscite date for the fourteen proposed amendments for May 7,2002, but it is now being postponed to August. In this referendum Committee Proposals Nos. 01-16 and 01-21 will be submitted to the voters. Another proposed amendment, Committee Proposal No. 01-2, will probably be included on the ballot too. The other eleven proposed amendments will be on the ballot in the March 2003 general election. In order for any amendment to pass, 75% of the voters in three out of the four states must agree to it.
Quick Links for Proposed Amendments
No. 01-1: A Supreme Court Justice in Every State
No. 01-1: A Supreme Court Justice in Every State
This proposal would amend Section 2 of Article XI of the FSM Constitution. It sets the number of sitting justices on the Supreme Court at four at all times: three associate justices and the Chief Justice. Although it acknowledges that the Chief Justice has the authority to assign justices of the Supreme Court to any of the states where the court loads justify, it seems to mandate that at least one justice shall be assigned to each state.
If a vacancy occurs that reduces the number of sitting justices below the minimum of four, this proposed amendment authorizes the Chief Justice to appoint a justice pro tem who will fill the vacancy temporarily until a nomination is made by the FSM president and confirmed by the Congress. This proposal requires that a justice pro tem shall possess the same qualifications as the permanent justices on the court. The Chief Justice does not have this power under the current judicial article of the FSM Constitution.
Each justice of the Supreme Court is a member of both the trial and appellate divisions; only one justice may hear a case in the trial session. It takes at least three justices to hear an appellate case and the justice who heard the case at the trial level is prohibited from participating in the same case at the appellate division. It requires a majority of the sitting justices in an appellate case to render a decision.
Analysis: This proposed amendment will make sure that at all times the FSM Supreme Court will have four justices to hear cases in the states. It will be unnecessary for the Chief Justice to appoint temporary justices from outside of the Court to hear cases in the appellate division on a case-by-case basis. In addition, the FSM states that currently have no resident justices will, under this proposal, have at least one justice assigned to each. Theoretically, the assignment of one justice to each of the four states will guarantee FSM citizens the right to have their grievances heard in the Supreme Court.
This proposal will, however, definitely increase the budget of the Supreme Court to pay for salaries of the additional justice and his staff; to pay rental for office and housing; and to pay for office supplies. In this time of budget cutting and austerity measures, this proposal will definitely move our country in the opposite direction. In addition, investigating and adjudicating those crimes which were once defined as major crimes has now devolved on the states as their responsibility. In other words, the current caseloads in the Supreme Court, especially in the smaller states, may not warrant an increase in the number of sitting justices. This brings me to the question of the right of FSM citizens to have their grievances heard in the Supreme Court. This is a serious concern because it deals with the fundamental rights of our people. If people in the states that currently have no resident justices are in fact denied this constitutional right, then the concern for increased cost and inadequate court caseloads is irrellevent.
No. 01-2: Dual Citizenship
This proposal would amend Article III of the FSM Constitution to allow FSM citizens to acquire an additional citizenship, i.e., a dual citizenship. The new Section 2 reads "All persons born of parents one or both of whom are citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia or naturalized as citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia are citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia." The new Section 3 is the gist of this proposal, which reads "Any citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia may be a citizen of another nation, and shall not be deprived of his Federated States of Micronesia citizenship by exercising his citizenship rights of the other nation. This section applies retroactively."
Analysis: In comparison with the current provision for citizenship in the FSM Constitution, the language used in the new Section 2 is much broader and all encompassing. The new Section 3 in the proposal will allow the FSM citizens who are born in the United States to have a dual citizenship. Any citizen of the FSM born of one United States citizen parent may claim dual citizenship under this proposal. The coverage of this proposed amendment includes citizens of other countries. For instance, a Filipino citizen of the FSM can return to the Philippines and obtain a Philippines citizenship without losing his FSM citizenship.
This proposal will make it possible for the FSM citizens who volunteered for the United States armed forces to obtain United States citizenship without losing their FSM citizenship. If adopted, this proposed amendment would take effect retroactively. It is not clear in the proposal when it will be retroactive to. However, a good argument could be made that it is retroactive to the effective date of the FSM Constitution.
The most troublesome aspect of this proposed amendment is its impact on land ownership in this country. It may allow a whole new class of citizens to claim title to land although they have not been residing here for so many years. On the other hand, this proposal will make it possible for those Micronesians who currently cannot claim title to their land because they are non-citizens to assert their rights to own the land.
The main issues for the voters to decide is whether to allow FSM citizens to be eligible for citizenship in other countries, and citizens of other countries to be eligible for FSM citizenship.
No. 01-5: State Jurisdiction over Land and Water
This proposed amendment would amend Section 6 (a) and (b) of Article XI. It proposes to take away national court jurisdiction to adjudicate cases involving ownership of water and land in order that this jurisdiction might reside with the state courts. In this proposal, the ownership of water refers to the traditional claims of ownership on the reefs inside the territorial sea. With respect to cases involving land, this proposal will prevent the national courts, including the trial division of the FSM Supreme Court, from asserting jurisdiction because of diversity of citizenship, disputes between a state and a citizen of another state, or because of some other legal technicality in American jurisprudence that might be applied when interpreting the FSM Constitution.
Analysis: This proposed amendment attempts to stop the intrusion of the FSM Supreme Court into adjudicating land cases. In spite of the fact that the current provision of the FSM Constitution gives the state courts jurisdiction in cases involving land, the Supreme Court has, in recent cases, claimed jurisdiction through other means, such as diversity of citizenship. These cases have been controversial and seen by the state courts as unjustifiable intrusion in their jurisdiction and may be in violation of the spirit of the FSM Constitution. Perhaps what prompted litigants to seek redress in the Supreme Court is the fear (justified or imagined) that the state courts would not be able to render impartial justice.
In a rare situation where jurisdiction of the national courts overlaps with that of the state courts in land cases, the FSM Congress will prescribe by statute the proper court.
No. 01-7: Recognition of the Laws of Other States
This proposed amendment adds a new Section 8 to Article XIII of the Constitution. It reads: "Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. The Congress shall prescribe by statute the manner in which such acts, records and judicial proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof."
Analysis: The implication of this proposed amendment is both legal and political. Legally, for the first time in the history of our country, public laws, records, and judicial proceedings in one state will be accorded the same legal recognition in the other three states. For example, if a person is arrested in Eauripik in Yap State and he subsequently escapes to Kapingamarangi by canoe, Pohnpei State will be legally obligated to send him back to Eauripik to stand trial. Additionally, a Pohnpei court judgment will be enforceable against a defendant who escapes to Yap without requiring the plaintiff to prove his case again in the Yap court. In a dispute between two legal residents of Chuuk in Yap, the court in Yap may apply relevant Chuukese laws.
It should be noted that this proposal is not self-executing. If approved, the FSM Congress needs to pass implementing legislation to set out the manner of proving public act records and judicial proceedings.
Politically, this proposal may forge close cooperation and a good working relationship among the FSM states, thus fostering a sense of unity and nationalism.
No. 01-8: New Office of Independent Prosecutor
This proposed amendment would add a new Section 4 to Article XII, by creating the Office of Independent Prosecutor. As envisaged by this proposal, the Office of Independent Prosecutor will be an independent agency of the national government. To protect its independence, the proposal requires that the president can only dismiss the Independent Prosecutor with the consent of two-thirds of the members of Congress. It also provides that the agency shall be adequately funded and prohibits the national government from passing laws, adopting regulations, or issuing directives, which have the intent or effect of diminishing or eliminating the independence of this agency.
The Independent Prosecutor is appointed by the president and subject to the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Congress. He serves one six-year term and may not be re-appointed to a consecutive term. In case of removal from office, the Chief Justice will "immediately appoint" an acting Independent Prosecutor who serves until a successor is appointed and confirmed by Congress.
The Independent Prosecutor is empowered to investigate and prosecute any person or agency at the national level, state level, or local level that receives, spends or administers public funds from the national government. His investigative and prosecutorial powers extend to the commission of any national offense by any national official and obstruction of his investigation and commission of perjury. He may compel the testimony of witnesses under oath and the production of documents.
Analysis: The language of this proposal is self-executing and it accords the Independent Prosecutor the protection he or she needs from pressures of the two political branches of the national government. Because of his constitutional independence and insulation from political pressure, the Independent Prosecutor will be in a much stronger position to investigate and prosecute white-collar crimes and crimes involving high officials of the national government. This political independence and insulation from politics is something that the Attorney General does not enjoy today.
One main concern about this proposal should be the cost that it will add to the national budget. In this time of budget austerity and funding uncertainty, this proposed Independent Prosecutor Office will expand the national government budget. On the other hand, the creation of this independent agency might in the long run save money for the government if it discourages corruption in public offices, misuse of public funds, and other related white-collar crimes.
The voters must decide whether the need to investigate and prosecute white-collar crime is so compelling that it outweighs the needs to keep the national budget from expanding.
No. 01-9: Allowance for Former Presidents and Vice Presidents
This proposed amendment would amend Article X by adding a new Section 8. It requires the Congress to establish and fund a lifetime allowance for former presidents and vice presidents. The Congress will also "provide for reasonable conditions and length of service as eligibility therefor."
Analysis: In this time of budget austerity and funding uncertainty, this proposal will expand the national government budget. The main issue here is whether or not the former presidents and vice presidents should be provided a lifetime income in recognition of their service to our country. These former presidents and vice presidents will be eligible for social security retirement pay, but only when they reach retirement age. If they are not able to find employment after they leave their respective offices and they have not reached retirement age, they will have no means of providing for themselves. This proposal will take care of this problem for they will become eligible for this allowance for the rest of their lives as soon as they leave office. This would mean that a person elected to the presidency or vice-presidency at the age of thirty and leaves office at the age of thirty-four would be receiving a pension for the rest of his life.
The main issue that the voters must decide is whether or not now is the right time to take care of these people who have served in the two highest offices of our nation. Many nations provide lifetime income for their former presidents, but we cannot compare these nations to ours.
This proposal must necessarily be discussed along with the other proposal, which requires direct election of the president and vice president. This latter proposal limits the term of president to one four-year term. If the voters approve it, then there will be a lot of former presidents and vice presidents for our nation to take care of. This lifetime income for former presidents and vice presidents might become an expensive proposition for our nation.
No. 01-11: National Educational Standards and Supplemental Educational Fund
This proposed amendment would amend Section 1 of Article XIII by requiring "the national government to establish accreditation standards for primary and secondary schools regarding curriculum, instruction, assessment, teaching credentials, student performance and school facilities." It is also required to establish "a supplemental education fund" to assist each state to implement and maintain these national standards. This fund will use not less than twenty percent (20%) of the revenue derived from selling permits to foreign fishing vessels to fish in the FSM exclusive economic zone. This fund will be controlled and administered by the national government, which will establish requirements for state participation.
Analysis: The Convention envisages this education fund to be administered in the same way and in similar fashion as the United States federal education programs. To participate in the fund, the states will have to meet nationally established requirements and standards for primary and secondary schools’ curriculum, instruction, assessment, teaching credentials, student performance and school facilities. The nationally established standards will serve as the minimum standards, but the states may set higher standards on their own.
Politically, this proposal might promote political cohesiveness between the states and the national government. In other words, it will focus attention on the national government as a caring and generous political institution. This might contribute to the creation of a national consciousness, which is absent in this country.
No. 01-13: Value-Added Tax
This proposed amendment would amend Section 3 of Article IX by adding a new subsection (d). This new subsection empowers the national government and the states "to levy value added taxes."
Analysis: This value-added tax (known as VAT) is intended to replace the gross revenue tax and the import tax. It is probably fairer and more progressive in its application than the current gross revenue tax. Under the current gross revenue tax, an importer pays a tax when merchandise is sold to a store, and the store again pays tax when it sells the same merchandise to the customer. Additionally, the gross revenue tax applies only to private businesses and not to the government-affiliated businesses, giving the latter an unfair advantage. The import taxes have the disadvantage of hampering development of export oriented businesses because these businesses must pay taxes on the materials they need to expand their operations.
The value added tax is a consumption tax and is levied on the consumers of goods and services. Since this tax is spread across a large portion of the population, it could be lower than other taxes. Export businesses will benefit from this value-added tax because they will not pay tax on goods they sell abroad. Additionally, they will receive value-added tax credit for the tax they pay on materials they buy locally to manufacture the goods they export.
The states are looking for new ways to increase their revenue to adequately discharge their primary responsibility for funding education and health services. This value-added tax is one such source of revenue that the states may utilize.
Politically, the approval of this value-added tax might defuse the on-going friction between the national government and the states, regarding division of revenues collected by the national government. Instead of fighting over the size of their piece of the pie, the national government and the states would, under this proposal, each have its own pie to savor.
No. 01-15: Increase in the States’ Share of Tax Revenues
This proposed amendment would amend Section 5 of Article IX to increase the states’ share of the tax revenues from 50% to 80% and decrease the share of the national government from 50% to 20%.
Analysis: The FSM voters rejected a very similar proposed amendment in a popular referendum several years ago. After the rejection of the proposal, the FSM Congress enacted a law giving the states 70% of the revenues and retaining 30% for the national government.
Approval of this proposal would not mean direct disbursement of tax revenues to local communities for public projects. The revenues would, instead, be allotted to state legislatures for appropriation for whatever the members decide. If the revenues remain with the national government, the FSM Congress would use it for whatever its members fancy.
One way of looking at this proposal is from the "trust factor" angle. If the voters trust their representatives in the FSM Congress as more reliable and responsive to their communities’ needs, then they should vote against this proposal. On the other hand, if their representatives in their respective state legislature have always come through for their communities, then they should vote for it. The voters can actually quantify the number of projects and amount of money spent by their representatives in the Congress and state legislatures in their communities. A comparison of the number of projects and how much money their representatives in Congress and state legislatures bring to their communities can help them to decide how they will vote on this proposal.
Another way of looking at this is to compare the needs of the national government versus the needs of the state governments. The national government needs to fund its own operation within and outside of the country as well as providing adequate funding for the College of Micronesia-FSM system and the Fisheries Maritime Institute in Yap. In addition, the national government pays membership fees and contributions to several international organizations. On the other hand, the state governments need to fund their own operation, the primary and secondary schools, and operate and maintain the field trip ships for the outer islands. In this respect, perhaps it should be pointed out that the state governments will derive some benefits from Committee Proposal No. 01-11 which sets aside 20% of the fishing permit fees for primary and secondary education. In other words, combining this proposal with Proposal No.01-11 would give the state governments an advantage of about a 30% increase in revenues over the national government. I am not at all sure that the national government can absorb this 30% decrease in revenues.
No. 01-16: Congress: Increase of Number of Members and Limit to Length of Term
This proposal would amend Section 8 of Article IX of the Constitution to (1) add one more at-large member from each of the four states; (2) make the term for all members of Congress four years; and (3) impose a term limit of 12 years on all members.
Analysis: One of the problems with this proposal is its format. It contains three different amendments. It will present a problem for the voters because they cannot vote separately on the three amendments. They will be forced to either vote "Yes" or "No" on all three, even if they like one part and dislike another.
This proposal would add four more at-large members to the FSM Congress. This will bring the total number of members to 18, compared to the current 14. The smaller states will gain an infinitesimal advantage from this proposal, but the addition of four more members will increase the Congress budget by almost a million dollars. The main question in this proposal, and the one that the voters must ultimately decide, is whether this negligible advantage for the smaller states justifies the large increase in Congress’s budget.
The second issue contained in this proposal is whether or not all members of the FSM Congress should serve for four years. Currently, only the four at-large members serve for four years. The ten members representing the various election districts in the four states serve for two years. This issue involves the fundamental democratic principle of the voters’ right to evaluate the performance of their representatives every two years instead of the proposed four years. The proponents of this proposed amendment argue that it will save money and eliminate pork barrel legislation. It might save money because elections will be less frequent, but saving money should not be used as an excuse to deny our citizens their democratic right to evaluate the performance of their representatives in the Congress every two years. Moreover, it is doubtful whether increasing the length of the term to four years will get rid of pork barrel legislation. Pork barrel is the single most effective means of getting the incumbent politicians re-elected in Micronesia. So as long as politicians are eligible for re-election, pork barrel will remain the bread and butter of politics here.
The voters must decide whether they want to give up their right to pass judgement on their representatives in Congress every two years because of the small savings in money and the dubious argument that extending the term to four years will eliminate the loathsome pork barrel legislation.
The last issue tucked away in this proposal is a twelve-year term limit for all members of Congress. Currently, there is no limit as to how long a member of Congress may serve. Several members of the Congress have served longer than 20 years.
The proponents of this proposed amendment argue that it will bring in much-needed fresh ideas and new approaches to Congress. They look for a renaissance to take place in Congress when new members come in and old members leave.
On the other hand, opponents argue that this proposal is disruptive and deprives Congress of the crucial continuity that is needed in a legislative body. Additionally, they argue that the Congress does not need term limits because voters may choose to retain or kick out an incumbent during each election. Although this argument is valid, I should point out that the incumbents have undue advantage over their opponents during election. The senators’ favorite means of securing votes for re-election is to dole out pork barrel money to their supporters. In addition, they always vote themselves large sums of money for official expense allowance that they spend to keep their supporters loyal and happy. It is extremely hard for newcomers to unseat incumbents because they do not have the advantage of using public funds to support their candidacy. For this reason, the election is always unfairly tilted in favor of the incumbents. So this argument does not seem to hold up under careful scrutiny.
The voters must decide what is more important: continuity in Congress or bringing into Congress new members with fresh ideas to reinvigorate it.
No. 01-21: Direct Election of President and Vice President
This proposal would amend Sections 1, 4, 5, and 6 of Article X to require direct election of the FSM president and vice president. Currently, the FSM Congress elects the president and the vice president from among its four at-large members. After the election, the Speaker of the Congress declares vacancy for the seats formerly held by the president and vice president and special elections are held in the states where the vacancies occurred.
Under this proposal, the president and the vice president will be elected directly by the voters in the general election. It requires that the president and the vice president shall be from different states and shall run on one ticket. The winning ticket needs only a plurality of 40% of the total votes cast. A run-off election is required if no ticket garners the required 40% of the total votes cast. The minimum age requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates is 30 years and they must be legal residents of the their respective states. The term "legal residents" is left undefined in this proposal. This will have to be clarified by Congress.
This proposal defines "one presidential term" to mean more than two years of service in office. Thus, if a president dies before serving two years in office, he will not have been deemed to serve a full term. In this case, a special election will be held to fill the vacancy but only legal residents of the deceased president’s state will be eligible to run. On the other hand, if the president dies after serving more than two years in office, the vice president will succeed him. After succeeding to the office, the former vice president (and now president) will nominate a vice president who will be subject to Congress’ approval.
This proposal contains an important element of presidential rotation among the four states. This rotation process works in this fashion. In the first election legal residents of all four states will be eligible to run for president. In the second election, the residents of the state that won the presidency in the first election will not be eligible to run. This elimination process will continue until the fourth election when only residents of the state that has not yet held the presidency will be allowed to run. After the fourth election (sixteen years later), the second rotation will start.
Analysis: Perhaps this proposal is the most significant of all the proposed amendments that came out of the Constitutional Convention. For the first time in the short history of our nation, this proposal will allow the voters to exercise their God-given right to elect their president and vice president. This proposal is not perfect, but it would be difficult to find a perfect presidential electoral system in the world. For instance, in the last US presidential election, the loser in the popular vote became the president while the winner became a part-time college professor.
The current method of electing the FSM president creates an uneven check and balance between the two political branches of the national government. The current joke is that there is too much check and no balance in the national government. This proposal seeks to correct this problem by taking away from Congress its power to elect the president and the vice president. Consequently, the Congress will no longer be the constituent of the president. The constituents of the president will be the voters who put him in office. Thus, the president will not be politically accountable and responsible to the Congress. His mandate to govern will be bestowed directly on him by the sovereign right of the people to elect their leader. This will increase the power of the FSM president vis-à-vis the Congress. In addition, the legitimacy of the presidency will be enhanced and genuine checks and balances between the two branches will exist.
The dynamics of the current system have politically marginalized some of the states. For instance, Kosrae did not serve a full term in the presidency. Additionally, it has no representation at all in the current president’s cabinet. Now local politics seems to dictate the composition of the president’s cabinet. In a nation with diversified constituent states, the composition of the national cabinet must necessarily reflect that diversity. In addition, every state must be treated equitably regardless of size. I am not blaming anyone. I am merely pointing out the flaw of the current method of electing the president.
This proposal seeks to correct this shortcoming by directing presidential politics toward a broader national constituency instead of narrow congressional and local constituencies.
The current arrangement would have worked if our political system were fully developed. If politics were based on political ideology and if political parties were established to aggregate and articulate national interest, then the present arrangement would have worked.
Popular election of the president and vice president might eventually lead to establishment of political parties and an emergence of a new political paradigm based on ideology and concern for public welfare to supplant the current system, which is dominated by the principle of "what is good for my re-election is good for the country."
There is a genuine fear that in a direct election of the president and vice president, voters in Chuuk will always decide the outcome. This fear is not entirely unfounded, but I think the best way to deal with it is to accept the fact that the large population of Chuuk will always make that state a political force in any kind of election. It is almost irrelevant in our present discussion here because it does not really matter whether the president and vice president are elected directly or elected by the Congress; Chuuk will always have a big influence.
Another concern is that in a direct election of the president and the vice president, only the wealthy few can afford to run. This concern is legitimate, but the FSM Congress can deal with it by limiting campaign spending per ticket to a certain amount ($20,000, for example) and make public funds available to each ticket if the candidates meet the requirements set by law. The funds spent on campaign financing will be money well spent since it will enable the FSM voters to have a wider field of candidates to select their leaders.
In deciding whether to vote for or against this proposal, the voters must ask themselves these basic questions: (1) Should they deny themselves their sovereign rights as citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia to elect their president and vice president directly? (2) Are they satisfied with the present arrangement, which allows the FSM Congress to elect the president and the vice president?
No. 01-24: Procedure for Allocating Foreign Funds
This proposal would amend Section 1(b) of Article XII of the Constitution to require all foreign financial assistance to be deposited into a special fund and allocated between the national government and the four state governments pursuant to negotiated agreement. This applies to foreign aid grants not specifically earmarked for projects.
Under the current Constitutional provision, funds not specifically earmarked for projects should be divided equally among the four states and the national government.
Analysis: The current Constitutional provision has been bypassed, circumvented, avoided and simply ignored. This provision is rendered inoperative because almost all foreign aid grants are provided specifically for certain projects. In cases where it would apply, the national government and the states would make sure that a formula was provided in the agreement for dividing the fund. In one or two cases, the national government just simply ignored the requirement of this provision.
This proposal will ensure that the constitutional provision regarding unspecified foreign aid grants is in compliance with current practices. This proposal will require negotiated agreements between the national government and the states in cases of unspecified foreign aid grants.
This proposed amendment is needed to incorporate the current practice in the Constitution and to delete the present clause that no one follows.
No. 01-25: Votes Required to Pass Bills in Congress
This proposed amendment will amend Section 8 and Section 20 of Article IX of the FSM Constitution to alter the number of votes required to pass a bill on first and second reading in the Congress. This proposal will require a simple majority (8 votes) of all members to pass a bill on first reading and two-thirds (10 votes) of the entire membership to pass it on second reading. Currently, it takes at least two-thirds (10 votes) of all members of Congress to pass a bill on first reading and 3 votes (each state casting one vote) of the four state delegations to pass it on second reading.
Analysis: This proposal would reduce the votes required to pass a bill on first reading from 10 to 8 and would change the voting pattern on second reading from 3 votes of four state delegations to 10 votes of the entire membership. It removes the state delegation vote on second reading; thus, the current constitutional protection for the smaller states is discarded completely.
This proposal will render the smaller states totally irrelevant in the Congress. For instance, the Chuuk delegation, which has six members, will need only two votes to pass a bill on first reading. On second reading, Chuuk and Pohnpei delegations, with total members of ten, will be able to pass a bill. Even if the four members from Kosrae and Yap object, they will be powerless to prevent the passage of a bill on first and second readings.
Under the current provision, Chuuk and Pohnpei delegations may pass a bill on first reading but Kosrae and Yap delegations may defeat it on second reading. This present situation forces the four state delegations to work closely in passing legislation. Removing the protection of the smaller states could render them nonessential in enacting legislation.
The voters in this country need to consider very carefully the impact of this proposal on the smaller states’ participation in Congress and decide whether now is the right time to forgo the current protection accorded to the smaller states in the Constitution.
No. 01-26: Votes Needed to Override a Presidential Veto
This proposed amendment would amend Subsection 2 (q) of Article IX of the Constitution to increase the votes required to override a presidential veto from three votes of the four state delegations (one delegation casting one vote) to three-fourths (11 votes) of the entire membership.
Analysis: The purpose of this proposal is to make it more difficult for Congress to override a presidential veto. However, since our politics is devoid of political ideologies and parties, it is doubtful it will accomplish its purpose. In other words, as long as politics in Congress is based on individual members’ interests and the members see the president as their political rival on the national scene, it is not likely that a president could muster the required votes to sustain his veto.
In this situation, the president must rely on his own political skills. He must engage members of Congress on an individual basis as well as by delegation to persuade them to sustain his veto. This is where the personal touch and understanding come in handy. Another important factor is communication. The president must maintain formal and informal communication with the members of Congress, as a group and on an individual basis.
The direct election of the president and vice president might blunt the inclination of Congress to override the presidential veto because the president will share the same constituency as the members of Congress and he can appeal to that constituency to pressure their representatives to sustain his veto.
|In addition to serving as the second president of FSM, John Haglelgam was an FSM Congressman for eight years. He is President of the 3rd Constitutional Convention, and teaches regularly the College of Micronesia, FSM.|
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