TFB members were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to sit with Gardenia Aisek, Legislator in the Chuuk State House of Senate representing the Southern Namoneas region. We talk extensively about the Chuuk State Online Gambling Bill - HB 14-39, the independence movement, and other developments from Chuuk State.
Below is a transcription of the recorded meeting. It has been edited for clarity. Special thanks to Hiroyuki Mori for his technical support.
TFB: What is the online gambling bill and what are your thoughts on it?
GA: I think it would be better for you to [also] interview those who are supporting the bill. Because I’m not supporting it. Because if you just use what I’m going to say to you it’s one sided. They may have totally different ideas and maybe they may have information that I don’t. Maybe they’ll be able to share with you why.
But I do know, that the main reason for this bill is for revenue generation. Looking down the road, 2023 is around the corner we don’t know the future of our country the FSM and partly the secession movement. I think there’s a connection there. Of course if we secede from the FSM we need to be able to generate revenue that will support our new country. So I believe those who thought of the online gambling bill probably has that in mind.
TFB: You mentioned publicly that you have concerns with the bill. You also explained that an outside group came to Chuuk to present the idea of online gambling.
GA: The group that came in and presented this online gambling to the legislators are from the Philippines. The bill had been introduced already in the senate and has been passed on first reading.
TFB: From your understanding how will this work? So there’s an outside company that is in charge of this operation?
GA: That is my understanding. During the presentation the group talked about the gambling licensing. And my understanding was that the group would obtain a license and it’s like they will have exclusive rights to this and they will go out and recruit operators. So that is not clear to me, because in the bill, in section 6 of the bill it says, “any person applying to operate any gaming establishment… would pay $100,000 a month”.
So, if this company has exclusive rights, they purchase a license and that’s for them only and they go out and recruit operators. The payment of that $100,000 by those operators is not clear. How Chuuk will be able to get that $100,000 payment a month if one company has exclusive rights, that is not clear.
TFB: Do you know if the online gambling is basically going to be for the purpose of a server? And will locals be able to sign on and gamble themselves?
GA: That is my confusion with their presentation because at first they talked about their clients being Koreans, Chinese, Japanese… As we continued with the presentation they talked about bringing in outside employees who I assume are going to man whatever operations they’re going to have here in Chuuk.
So, with my limited knowledge of this, just assuming things, I’m thinking that they would have to put up a facility in order for these employees to come in and run whatever operation. The R&D committee, had a hearing with the Attorney General and we raised these questions and many of our questions were not answered. And So we are really still, as far as I’m concerned in the dark. I really still don’t have a better understanding on how this is going to work.
TFB: For this company, what is the extent of their influence or power? Will they have exclusive rights over who is allowed to gamble and over other companies coming in?
GA: Since this group has already been given the green light to come in and operate in Chuuk they will probably come in and start meeting with leaders. I hope they would also meet with people so they can share and explain to people how this is going to work.
TFB: Do you see any benefits?
GA: The reason behind this bill is for us to generate income. We are looking for how we are going to increase revenue in Chuuk to support our government. Pay for salaries, pay for services, pay for supplies and other things. In that light, revenue generation is the aim.
The difficulty I have is just from my limited experience, gambling always has a connection with drugs, corruption, and prostitution. Those are the concerns I have and those are the reasons why I am not supporting this bill. Yes, we need to generate revenue for our government but at the same time how do you have a balance between income generation and the impact this will have on the people of Chuuk? Especially our youth, the younger generation.
As you know right now human trafficking is increasing in Chuuk. There’re more and more human trafficking cases filed in Chuuk State. Most of these human trafficking cases involve outsiders. When we bring in more foreign workers in Chuuk I suspect that more human trafficking will take place.
Those are my concerns and I think we need to weigh generating revenue versus all those social issues that are going to arise when this takes place.
TFB: Based on our current unstable internet service would you say that it’s suspicious that Chuuk State was chosen?
GA: Now that’s a good question. My first question to the group was why Chuuk? Why don’t you do it in Guam or Palau? They said that they selected Chuuk because of its geography. It’s close to those countries where they’re going to get clients from and because of our culture.
So I said, but Chuuk is farther. Guam is much closer. Palau is much closer. And they said that the Chuukese people are very friendly that’s why they want to come to Chuuk. And those were the reasons, at least in answer to my question to why they chose Chuuk.
I’m sure they’re thinking about technology and I'm sure they know about the quality of internet we have in Chuuk. But they did mention that once the fiber-optics system is up they would be able to connect and get faster service. I think the fiber-optics will be done this year. And if it’s done this year and this bill gets passed I’m sure something is going to happen this year.
TFB: Given the limited use of technology with locals, was there any mention of how Chuuk State plans on educating the public?
GA: Well, it’s never been discussed that we do need to educate our people to have a better understanding of technology and this online gambling. It’s never been raised. nobody has raised any concerns that people don’t really have an understanding of technology.
TFB: Was there any mention of using local IT companies to monitor these companies?
GA: No. I didn’t hear any mention of using locals. They mentioned bringing in employees from outside. So I mentioned, with Chuuk’s lack of skills in technology how can we be a part of this? They said that they will bring in their own people who are experts.
As far as operating the system or whatever they will be bringing in the Chuukese will not be able to have a chance. But if they’re going to have big facilities, then probably they will have employment opportunities (e.g. security).
TFB: Going back to the bill, is the Senate still discussing the bill?
GA: The Senate has already passed it on first reading. So what’s happening right now, is we’ve established a special committee to gather more information, to do research on this and report back to both houses. I don’t know how far they’ve gone. If i’m not mistaken they had their first meeting but we have not been briefed. We will conduct more hearings and we want to bring in an IT person. We want to bring in people from church, the youth, the chamber of commerce and different members of the community. I’m sure that’s going to happen during this second regular session.
TFB: There aren't that many jobs in Chuuk. Most locals depend on the few who have jobs to support them. How will gambling affect employed locals and the others who depend on them for support?
GA: During the presentation I did raise that issue that everyone can have access to the internet. That means anyone with access to the internet can just spend whatever money they have on gambling. The answer was, the Chuukese will not be able to have access. They will block off the IP addresses so that the Chuukese won’t be able to play.
But I don’t know if that will be true, to block off the IP Address. I’m sure they could - But do you think our leaders will have access? I don’t know.
But I don’t know how hard it would be to get that? If that’s true then the locals will not be able to play. But if it’s not true then you can just stay at home and play. those are the concerns that we should be addressing and I’m not convinced that everyone’s IP addresses will be blocked off. I’m sure certain people will have access. If i have access I can give it to my friend and maybe my friend can give it to someone else? I don’t know. Those are just my negative thoughts about all of this.
TFB: Where do you stand on the Chuuk Independence movement?
GA: Chuuk Independence… At first I was really opposed to it and I’m very vocal on my opposition. I’m still opposing it but I’m looking at both sides. Because, if you really look at it - someone said we’re doing this out of desperation. And it’s because Chuuk State is one of the States in the FSM and we have the largest population and it seems like it’s so difficult for us to get things done. It seems like people just walk over us and its like we’re always fighting and we never win. And it’s probably why our leaders are just fed up and they want to do this.
Just an example, for infrastructure. Infrastructure money, the only money that is available to develop Chuuk State is for the road. Everything else is very difficult for us to get. I don’t know, it’s very frustrating. When I was in education [OIA] said, you need to provide documents that the property where the schools are located are owned by the government. So we provided. But then it’s like when we met that requirement they made another. So it’s very frustrating. I’m sure our leaders are frustrated with those kinds of things, the attitude towards us.
So with that, maybe we should. But at the same time, I’m not convinced that we’re ready. I’m not convinced that we have a plan. Maybe they do have a plan but I haven’t seen that. So I keep asking, so where is the master-plan I want to see how this is going to come out you know. Because I think when the people are given the picture, “this is how we’re going to start” then I think everybody will understand. Right now I’m not comfortable to vote “yes” not knowing where I’m going to go. But if I know where I’m going and I feel safe, I feel secure, yes I will support it. But right now I don’t know where we’re going and I think the commission has failed in educating the Chuukese people. Hopefully this time around they will not fail again and will really come out and educate us.
TFB: Many suggested that Southern Namoneas should secede if Chuuk becomes independent. And there is nothing to stop them from seceding from Chuuk. Do you agree?
GA: Southern Namoneas? That’s interesting. Faichuuk wants to become a State [in the FSM]. But I don’t know where that comes from [laughs]. I haven’t heard that one.
TFB: For now you believe Chuuk is not ready for independence?
GA: We want to. We want to be able to take care of ourselves. We want to do the things needed to develop Chuuk. But I’m not convinced that we’re ready for [independence] I am not convinced that we’re ready. If I see a plan that will take me from here to there safely, then maybe I will support it.
TFB: Moving on. There are several bridges being built are they being funded by our State government?
GA: I think they were funded by our government. When I was in [Department of Education] they were already [planning]. But I don’t know exactly where the funding came from. Whether it’s from infrastructure funding or local revenue. It could’ve been funded by FSM congress but I am not sure.
TFB: There was a project proposed on [social media] about a project to connect the islands of Weno, Tonoas, and Fefen by Chinese investors. Is this just a rumor?
GA: I think it’s just a rumor I haven’t heard. Of course when you talk about having easy access to these islands, we can build bridges it could be connected this way. Anybody can bring up ideas. But I haven’t really heard about any investors coming in to do that. Now energy is different. There’re energy plans connecting or lighting the other islands but as far as bridges, I never heard of anything like that by our leaders or by anybody from outside.
That would be good, to connect. like the islands in South Florida, the Key West. There are bridges all the way, easy access. But it’d be billions of dollars which we don’t have.
TFB: Well, that’s basically all that we wanted to ask. Do you have any final thoughts?
GA: Yes. The way the Chuukese people are… I think this term has been raised many times, “sia men mafenipuch”. That’s really a big block to understanding things. Because we don’t want to offend people, so we don’t speak. We don’t ask questions. And when you ask questions they say you’re disrespectful. When you raise your opinions they say you’re disrespectful. Because you’re young or you’re a woman.
But in order for people to understand things and especially the youth, opinions, concerns, questinos, etc. must be expressed and raised. I think that the youth has power and you can really utilize that. You’re the future and I think you need to get involved. You need to get more involved. Go visit our leaders and ask them questions. Make them talk to you. They need to talk to our youth.
And so with these bills. You know the online gambling bill, the secession. There’s another one that came from the executive about unicameral. We need to have dialogue. People need to speak up more. I think it’s time for us to speak up. It’s time for us to push for better things. For change in Chuuk. We really need change in Chuuk. And the youth can be the driver of change, the catalyst of change.