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The State of Pohnpei: Introductory Note

Philip Raworth
Edited By: Philip Raworth

© 2017 Oxford University Press

Pohnpei is one of the four States of Micronesia, a grouping of 607 small islands in the Western Pacific. They lie northeast of New Guinea, south of Guam and the Marianas, west of Nauru and the Marshall Islands, east of Palau and the Philippines, about 2,900 kilometers (1,802 miles) north of eastern Australia and some 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) southwest of Hawaii. The State of Pohnpei lies between the States of Chuuk and Kosrae. It covers an area of 371.6 square kilometers (about 143.5 square miles) and, as of 2010, has a population of 36,196. The capital is Kolonia. The capital of Micronesia, Palikir, is also situated in Pohnpei.

Pohnpei was not colonized until modern times. The long pre-colonial period is divided into the Period of Peopling (before 1100 AD), the Deleur Period with its centralized rule (c. 1100 to c. 1628 AD) and finally the decentralized rule of the Isokelekel (the Nahmmwarki Period from c. 1828 to c. 1885 AD). It was not until 1886 that the Spanish began to exert political authority over Pohnpei. In 1899, the German Empire purchased the Caroline Island Group, which Pohnpei belonged to. After the First World War, Japan assumed control of all German colonial possession north of the equator, including Pohnpei. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, Pohnpei, together with the other three Micronesian States, was administered by the United State under a mandate from the United Nations. In 1979, it joined with Yap, Kosrae and Chuuk to form the Federated States of Micronesia, which became a sovereign state after independence was attained on November 3, 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States.

The Legislature

Legislative Power in Pohnpei is vested in the unicameral Pohnpei Legislature, which is elected directly by the people for a term of four years. There is no provision for a premature dissolution of the Legislature. The members of the Legislature are called senators. Three-fourths of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies, constitute a quorum. Unless the State Constitution provides otherwise, acts of the Legislature require a simple majority of votes for adoption.

To become law, a bill must pass two readings on separate days. The first reading may be on the day of introduction. Passage on the second reading requires the affirmative vote on a roll call of a majority of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies. Every bill that has passed the Legislature is certified by the presiding officer and the Clerk and presented to the Governor. The Governor has ten days to consider bills presented to him ten or more days before a recess of at least a week’s duration or before adjournment of the Legislature. For all other bills he has thirty calendar days after they are presented to him. If the Governor approves the bill, he signs it, and it becomes law. If the Governor does not approve the bill, he returns it with his objections to the presiding officer of the Legislature.

Any bill neither signed nor returned by the time specified becomes law as if the Governor had signed it. After the Legislature has received a message of disapproval, the bill, item, or items disapproved become law on a single reading upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies.

Bills are initiated by the Legislature. However, The Legislature must provide by statute for enactment of laws on an initiative signed by not more than thirty-five percent of the qualified voters of Pohnpei, and for a referendum requiring not more than sixty percent of the votes cast for approval of an initiative.

The Legislature may propose an amendment to the State Constitution. Such proposed amendment requires approval by an affirmative vote of three-fourths of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies. It is transmitted to the Governor for his consideration in the manner prescribed for the consideration of bills. If the Governor approves the proposed amendment, it qualifies for ratification. If the Governor disapproves the proposed amendment, he returns it to the Legislature in the manner prescribed for the return of disapproved bills. If the Legislature again approves the proposed amendment by the affirmative vote of three-fourths of its members, without regard to vacancies, the proposed amendment qualifies for ratification.

An amendment to the State Constitution may also be proposed by presenting to the Governor a petition that sets forth the text of the proposed amendment and bears the signatures of at least one-third of the registered voters of Pohnpei. The Governor must have the petition examined and, within ninety days after presentation to him, he determines whether the petition has the requisite number of signatures of registered voters. Upon certification that the petition contains the requisite number of signatures, the proposed amendment qualifies for ratification.

A proposed amendment is submitted for ratification at an election, whether general or special, held not less than ninety days nor more than one hundred and eighty days after the proposed amendment qualifies. The amendment takes effect only if approved by not less than two-thirds of the votes cast on the amendment and by at least fifty percent of the registered voters of Pohnpei at the time of the election.

The Executive

Executive Power in Pohnpei is vested in the Governor, who is elected for a four-year term directly by the people of Pohnpei. No person may serve more than two full consecutive terms as Governor. The Governor is responsible for the faithful execution of the provisions of the State Constitution and of all the laws of Pohnpei. He may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after conviction of offenses other than impeachment, subject to regulation by statute. He may recommend legislative measures for the consideration of the Legislature but he has not direct right of legislative initiative.

The responsibilities of the Governor and Government of Pohnpei include:

  • –  establishing and executing comprehensive plans for the conservation of natural resources and the protection of the environment;

  • –  promoting economic development and establishing and executing a development plan for Pohnpei;

  • –  providing educational services for the public;

  • –  providing for the regulation of educational services;

  • –  establishing and executing comprehensive plans for the continual improvement of educational standards and services;

  • –  establishing and maintain a library, museum, and archives;

  • –  providing health care services for the public;

  • –  establishing and executing comprehensive plans for the continual improvement in health care services;

  • –  providing for the regulation of health care services;

  • –  establishing and executing comprehensive plans for the identification, preservation, and administration, for the benefit of the public, of places and artifacts, and for information of historical and cultural importance;

  • –  establishing and executing comprehensive plans for continual improvement in the protection of the safety and security of person and property.

The Governor is not politically responsible to the Legislature. However, the Governor, like the Lieutenant Governor and the members of the Legislature may be removed from office by recall. To recall the Governor or Lieutenant Governor, a petition signed by thirty-five percent of the registered voters of Pohnpei must be submitted to the presiding officer of the Legislature, who must forthwith appoint a Special Election Commissioner. Within fifteen days, the Special Election Commissioner must determine the validity of the petition. If the petition is valid, a recall election is held within thirty days of the determination of validity. The official is recalled upon the affirmative vote of sixty percent of the registered voters of Pohnpei.

To recall a member of the Legislature a petition signed by thirty-five percent of the registered voters of the relevant electoral district must be submitted to the Governor, who forthwith transmits the petition to the Election Commissioner. Within fifteen days, the Election Commissioner determines the validity of the petition. If the petition is valid, a recall election is held within thirty days of the determination of validity. The member of the Legislature is recalled upon the affirmative vote of fifty-one percent of the registered voters of the electoral precinct that he represents.

In addition, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Auditor, members of the Legislature, justices or judges of any Court, and all appointed officials of the Government of Pohnpei may be impeached for misconduct in office, neglect of duty, incapacity, or conviction of an offense of moral turpitude. Upon the adoption of a resolution of impeachment by three-fourths of the members of the Legislature without regard to vacancies, a notice of impeachment is forthwith served upon the official by the Legislature. Upon service of the notice of impeachment, the official is suspended from his duties, but with pay, pending judgment.

A tribunal composed of three Justices of the Pohnpei Supreme Court is convened by the Chief Justice, or by the Governor in the event of impeachment of the Chief Justice. The tribunal appoints a special prosecutor with the approval of a majority of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies. A conviction of impeachment requires the vote of two-thirds of the members of the tribunal. Judgment in cases of impeachment does not extend beyond removal from office, but a person so convicted may nevertheless be subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment according to the law.

The Judiciary

Judicial Power in Pohnpei is vested in the Pohnpei Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as may be established by law. All judges and members of adjudicatory bodies are appointed by the Governor with the approval by an affirmative vote of a majority of the members of the Legislature, without regard to vacancies.

The Pohnpei Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and not more than four associate justices. The Pohnpei Supreme Court is a court of record and is the highest court of Pohnpei. The trial division of the Pohnpei Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases within the jurisdiction of Pohnpei and appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of all inferior courts and adjudicatory bodies. The appellate division of the Pohnpei Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over all matters in the trial division. No appeal on any matter relating to the State Constitution or Pohnpei law, customs and traditions may be made to any other court, except the Pohnpei Supreme Court. Otherwise, appeals from the appellate division of the Pohnpei Supreme Court go to the Supreme Court of Micronesia.