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Palau’s opposition senators suspect documents switched in airport project

Koror- Palau’s $31-million airport expansion project is facing closer scrutiny, with the Senate minority bloc raising more questions and asking the court to review pertinent documents that showed ostensible discrepancies.

The public-private partnership project to renovate and expand the Palau International Airport was formally launched on Aug. 7, 2017, with the signing of an agreement between Palau’s Commerce Minister Charles I. Obichang and Takuaki Manganji, general manager of Sojitz Corp. with Yasuhide Yonemoto, senior Managing Director of Japan Airport Terminal Company.

The project is the subject of a previous lawsuit that put to test Palau’s Open Government Act.

In a new motion filed in court on May 22, the opposition senators alleged that the documents reviewed held by the Senate legal counsel pro tem appear to have material differences with the draft airport documents presented to the Senate for approval in May 2017.

Rendition of the proposed new Palau International Airport. Illustration by Office of the President.

The minority senators want the documents produced by the defendant – Public Infrastructure, Industries, and Commerce Minister Charles Obichang on Jan. 25, 2018, to be evaluated against previous versions of the airport documents presented to Congress in May 2017.

Sen. J. Uduch Senior, one of the plaintiffs said the signed agreements if proven different from the one presented to Congress may be rendered “invalid and void.”

“If signed versions do not match or are materially different from the draft then that means that the signed agreements are invalid and void,” Senior said in her affidavit.

The draft document was the basis for earlier Congress approval for the administration to proceed with the negotiations to expand the Palau airport with Sojitz Corp. and Jatco through a first public private partnership venture.

Sens. Senior and Rukebai K. Inabo filed separate affidavits as part of the motion both alleging that a “cursory review at Mr. Nakamura’s office, I observed that there appeared to be differences between the version of the document that had been produced by the defendant in this matter and my recollection of previous versions of the document that I had seen.”

The senators are asking the court “to review the signed agreement and to compare it to the draft agreements,”

In response to an email inquiry, Sen. Uduch Senior said the senators hoped that if it is found that there are material differences, it would bolster their case for reconsideration.

The senators are asking the court to reverse its earlier judgment which held that Obichang did not violate the Open Government Act as he had eventually made the questioned documents available even outside of the required 10-day period.

“If these differences are, indeed, material, this would bolster the Plaintiffs’ argument that these documents a had not been produced prior to their Jan. 8, 2018 letter,” said the senators’ motion.

The public-private partnership agreement was signed Aug. 7, 2017 by Palau’s Commerce Minister Charles I. Obichang and Takuaki Manganji, general manager of Sojitz Corp. with Yasuhide Yonemoto, senior Managing Director of Japan Airport Terminal Company.

According to a press release issued by the Office of the President on Aug. 7, 2017, Palau formed a jointly-owned Palau Corp, owned 49 percent by Palau and 51 percent jointly owned by Sojitz and JATCO.

“In addition to capital, our new private sector partners are expected to contribute expertise and significant industry contacts,” states the press release. “As a major multinational corporation with deep infrastructure development experience, Sojitz will be able to renovate and expand Palau International Airport in a cost-effective manner, with the ultimate goal of developing “the most attractive airport in Micronesia.”

The new terminal, once completed, will be run by managers of JATCO, the company that runs Haneda International Airport, the world’s 5th busiest airport.

“This joint venture agreement is the first step in that partnership,” states the press release. “It allows the formation of Palau International Airport Corporation, the Palau Corporation which will manage this project, and enables the parties to undertake important preparations for construction. It also enables the parties to begin the joint effort to seek financing from Japan International Cooperation Agency, which we hope will join in this exciting new endeavor.”

Project site is within the existing airport property land in Airai state that is located in the southern end of Babeldaob Island. (With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)

#PalauIinternationalAirport #Palau #Politics

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