Tomeing-deBrum sells out nuclear test survivors compensation for Kwajalein, but get nothing for either nuclear or Kwajalein: A lose-lose result from lose-lose leadership

In the U.S. political system, when a Congress nears the end of its term at the same time a Presidential term is ending, that can be a good time to get certain business done that is a low priority in a new Congress and President have so many competing demands and priorities.   That is especially true when there is a record before Congress to support action.   Even in an election year, the last session of Congress before its term ends is when an issue that does not have importance in the U.S. elections can be addressed.

In the case of S. 1756, there was a strong record of hearing in the House and the Senate on the RMI Changed Circumstances Petition and the nuclear claims.   In the Senate the RMI government had been successful getting a bill introduced, having a hearing, and having the Senate committee leadership agree to approve the bill with amendments that benefit the RMI.   If the bill had passed in the Senate back when the committee leadership and staff told the RMI it was ready to move, there was a realistic chance that the Senate and RMI together could get the House to act, and that the Department of the Interior and OMB might not oppose the bill too strongly.   That is how Bikini got its $90 million resettlement funding in 1987, when OMB decided not to object.

Since the Senate had introduced S. 1756 by request of President Note, when it was ready to pass the bill in January it needed to confirm that there was stability and continuity in the RMI government, and that the new leadership would continue to support the bill.   But Tony deBrum was afraid to let anything good happen if the Note Administration might get credit for it, so he refused to answer the Senate, and in this case silence meant the answer was “No” just as clearly as if the RMI was saying “No” to the Senate.   Also, deBrum did not want a success for the RMI nuclear claims policy unless he first had success for the Kwajalein ruling class based on deBrum’s demands that  the U.S. pay them more or get out.  That juvenile delinquent strategy backfired big time.

So S. 1756 was in limbo, even though the four atolls testified in the “hearing” deBrum staged for U.S. Congress member from American Samoa, Eni Faleomavaega, that the RMI must make S. 1756 a top priority.   The four atolls wrote and spoke to the RMI and asked that the RMI take quick and clear action to support he bill, because this was not a transition issue, it did not need to be studied for more than a day or two to understand that it would be a mistake not to say “Yes’ loud and clear to Congress.

The four atolls reminded the Tomeing-deBrum administration that even if the bill does not go all the way through, the further it gets in this Congress the better the hope it will get back on the agenda next year in a new Congress and with a new President.   But Tony deBrum was too angry at RMI Ambassador Banny deBrum, and fired the Ambassador and embassy staff before he had a new Ambassador and so he did not maintain stability and continuity.   Tony mismanaged the transition and we can now put a price tag on the cost of his incompetence:  $100 million.

It may be that the Bill can be re-introduced next year, but then it will be in competition with so many other issue that are a higher priory for the new Congress and a new President.  Also, the funding for the RMI bill will have to come from somewhere in the budget, and in a new Congress it will be much harder to find the money because there will be so many new budget priorities in a new Congress.

As forecast yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources placed S. 1756 on its agenda now that the RMI government has ended its opposition by silence, as well as its secret behind the scenes opposition.   The committee approved S. 1756 with favorable amendments that in creased the additional funding for health from $2 million annually for 4 island to $4 million annually for 10 islands recognized as having been affected by the U.S. nuclear testing program in recent U.S. Government health studies.   Under S. 1756 that $4 million annual health care funding would continue for 20 years and be adjusted upward each year for inflation.

Unfortunately,  approval of the S. 1756 this late in the Congress is more like a death march than a celebration of a new beginning.   Since S. 1756 did not pass, instead of $4 million for health care for 20 years to benefit 10 atolls, there reportedly will be as little as $1 million for just 1 year, with no reliable commitment to future funding.

All the RMI had to do was say “Yes.”   It could have been a one sentence diplomatic note.   Since no one on any continent trusts anything that comes out of Tony deBrum’s mouth, it had to be in writing to be accepted by the U.S. and relied upon by Congress.   But it could have accepted the $100 million package as an additional U.S. contribution to compensation, without waiving past, present or future claims in the U.S. courts, Congress or through diplomatic channels seeking additional compensation.   No one was demanding that the RMI espouse and settle claims or waive claims that U.S. compensation under the Section 177 Agreement was inadequate.   All the RMI had to do was say “Yes” that $100 million more is better than nothing, it is good, but it is still not adequate.

But that would have meant $100 million for 10 atolls over 20 years would be approved by the U.S. Senate without also getting more U.S. funding for Imata Kabua.   That is why Tony deBrum told his lobbyist, Mr. Johnston, to take a pass on S. 1756.   Tony used his position as Foreign Minister of the RMI to make more, more and more money for Imata and the ruling land barons of Kwajalein the top priority.   As the Senator from Kwajalein he did not want the nuclear claims compensation funding to compete with Kwajalein funding.  He did not even want both S. 1756 and the RMI demands for the U.S. to pay more or get out of Kwajalein to move forward at the same time.

The problem is that when you are a minister you have to act on behalf of the nation.  If you want to act only as the senator from your place of election, then you resign as minister, or you recuse yourself on an issue if you can not be fair to all the people and free of conflict of interest.    Try explaining that to Tony.  Yeah, right.

So Tony quietly killed S. 1756.   He then used RMI money to pay a reported $1 million that belonged to all the people to his lobbyist to get more money for just a few people.  That includes Imata Kabua and Tony!

As the months went by and the chance for approval by the full Senate slipped away, and the chance for approval by the House of Representatives slipped away, Tony returned to the scene of the crime and tried to play word games to deny that he did it.

He blamed it on everyone but himself, even though he prevented anyone but himself form controlling the agenda and blocked the bill. Now he says there was opposition by 1 Senator, but obviously that did not stop the bill once the RMI supported it. He said the statement in the report of the committee on the bill that Bikini and Enewetak wanted might be used against the RMI in seeking more funding in the future, but that could have been dropped from the report or easily changed to ensure it does not cause any problem in the future.

Tony deBrum killed S. 1756 because he sold out the nuclear victims for Kwajalein. Do not be surprised if Tony has the arrogant pridefulness to now take credit for getting the bill passed out of committee.   Do not be fooled.   Yes, the committee acted because the RMI finally supported S. 1756.   But that only shows that the Senate committee was ready to act and did what it promised.

We will never know how far the bill would have gotten if the RMI had supported it when asked to say “Yes” in January, but we do know that Tony deBrum’s flip flop decision to support S. 1756 in September was TOO LITTLE TOO LATE!


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