Sunday, February 20, 2011

[pima.nius] US budget cuts program funding for Pacific Islands

11:36 AM |

US budget cuts program funding for Pacific Islands

Updated February 18, 2011 09:55:55

The United States' Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas says there have been no cuts to funding for programs that the territories rely on and expect to receive funding for. Insular Areas and Freely Associated States have been allocated just over US$474 million in the 2012 budget. Reactions across the Pacific have been mixed. A statement from the Office of Insular Affairs announcing the budget request says the President's budget reflects many difficult budget choices, cutting worthy programs in order to fund the highest priority requirements.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Tony Babauta, US Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas

BABAUTA: There's been small cuts to a technical assistance account, which I kind of have some broad authority over. But it's not anything that we can't live with. There have been no cuts to programs of the territories rely on as a stable and expected source of funding.

COUTTS: Ok well I'm still not really sure what your priorities are or where the cuts are, so can we just try to find what your priorities are and where the cuts actually are and what they are?

BABAUTA: I think our priorities continue to remain the same, which is to try strengthen the governments in the territories to try to continue our initiative for renewable energy and also to try to place as much as money towards education and being able to train the new workforces in all the different territories for emerging industries like renewable energy for the ability of governments to be able to further diversify their economy. And you're right, we don't have a lot of money to do much more than we would want to, but I think we're pretty stable in being able to carry out the priorities that we've already identified and have been working on for the past year and a half.

COUTTS: Well in this program over 12 months or more, and I mean more, we've talked about the Guam military buildup and its many facets. How will it be funded, because locally in Guam they're now saying that the funding that's going to be given by the federal government isn't sufficient?

BABAUTA: There's a request for an appropriation for Guam for the military buildup of about I think 340 or 376 million dollars, which will largely be the US's commitment to the buildup itself on the military side. There's some funding that's been available within DOD, and then transferred from DOD to my office to be able to address some of the civilian needs that Guam has raised in the past years. I don't believe that there's a level of funding that Guam has expected or wants to see at this point in time. It's not to say that it won't happen in the future, it's just a matter of being able to prioritise and anticipate the activity and all the activities that need to occur during the buildup. Last year in July we made a commitment on Guam to rebuild the northern waste water treatment system, which is going to be about 735 million dollar investment, which the federal government has committed to doing in order for the buildup to move forward.

COUTTS: And the Commonwealth and the Northern Marianas aren't pleased because they're getting something like a $500,000 cut or less in the 2012 budget as distinct from the 2011 one for capital expenses and projects there. What will they be missing out on with this cut?

BABAUTA: Well the reason why they're getting the cut is because their expenditure level is below a formula that we use in-house to be able to kind of grade each territory on how they've spent money in the previous fiscal year, and if you fall below the threshold number, which both the Northern Marianas and the Virgin Islands have done so, then you get a small reduction in the amount of CIP money for that year. On the other hand Guam and American Samoa have spent above that expenditure level and have maintained them, so they will get a slight increase. As far as how it affects the CNMI and how it moves forwards with its various CIP projects, there might have to be a readjustment of some of their priorities. But 500,000 in the overall large scheme of projects that they have to do I don't believe it will impact them too much, they still have 50 million dollars that has been unspent to date.

COUTTS: And Mr Babauta will any of this money go to healthcare and a provision of health services? We've seen this week headlines saying that American Samoa have had to stop sending cancer patients for radiation therapy to Hawaii. We've also seen that from other Pacific Island nations as well because there just isn't enough money either in the American Samoan budget or in this case, in Hawaii, so is any money being directed to health and health services?

BABAUTA: I don't believe I have the direct authority to be able to help them out in the way that they need help. I think in large measure I think the leadership of those governments; American Samoa and other Pacific Islands will have to readjust their budgets to be able to deal with the difficulties that they're facing. The entire nation and the entire federal government is having to do that as well, states across the nation the Governors are having to cut budgets, put tax on different commodities. I think everyone's going through a phase of prioritization, as are we, and as much as we would like to help and as much as we can help we will.

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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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