Marshall Islands to provide aid to stranded islanders

7:30 am on 8 May 2020

The Marshall Islands government is preparing to give one-time payments to Marshallese who have been stranded abroad as a result of a Covid-19 travel ban on incoming arrivals that has been in force since March 8.

The government has set aside US$100,000 for the purpose of an ex-gratia payment to stranded citizens and local residents who meet certain criteria. Cabinet authorized establishing an "ex gratia fund" at its meeting April 27.

The Chief Secretary's office is managing the roll out of the payments with the Ministry of Finance and the Marshall Islands Consulate in Honolulu.

Wednesday this week, the first 24 names of people eligible to receive US$500 payments each were submitted to the Ministry of Finance for processing, said Penny Kabua, the Chief Secretary's Program and Policy Co-ordinator.

A total of 189 names of people have been submitted for vetting by the Chief Secretary's office. Penny Kabua indicated that some will not be eligible to receive the ex gratia payments approved by the Cabinet.

Ex gratia is a Latin term that means "out of kindness."

To be eligible for one-time, $500 payments, people must be Marshall Islands citizens or residents and have left RMI between January 10 and March 22 this year.

In another Cabinet action on Covid-19 this week, importation of betel nut has been officially banned since Monday this week by an emergency order issued by President David Kabua.

President Kabua invoked the Marshall Islands Emergencies Act due to the State of Emergency on the Covid-19 coronavirus to temporarily suspend all imports of betel nut into the country.

President David Kabua, seated third from left, with his Cabinet, including Education Minister Kitlang Kabua, seated second from right

President David Kabua, third from left in front, with his new Cabinet, including Education Minister Kitlang Kabua, seated second from right in front row Photo: RNZ Pacific / Hilary Hosaia

At the same time, Justice Minister Kessai Note introduced to parliament draft legislation to permanently ban importation of betel nut.

"All importation of betel nut is hereby prohibited and an offense occurs where a person imports betel nut to the Republic of the Marshall Islands or uses betel nut in public in any part of the Republic," said the emergency order signed by the President.

Betel nut is not grown in the Marshall Islands.

Betel nut use is widespread in the Marshall Islands and health authorities view it as a means for spreading disease because of the spitting associated with chewing betel nut.