Palau - Overview

Outside the Presidential power to declare a State of Emergency, as defined in the constitution, Palau has no formal Disaster legislation. Instead the Palau National Disaster Risk Management Framework 2010 (as amended in 2016) outlines the institutional arrangements to enable effective coordination and collaboration in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the impact of any hazard to Palau. The Framework also provides for the coordination of, and guidance for, decision makers in the development of emergency response plans and procedures as well as disaster risk reduction strategies for government and non-government agencies that have mandated responsibilities for such activities. The framework is given legal authority by an Executive Order.


The Framework provides for a multi-level approach to emergency and disaster management. At the highest level, the Disaster Executive Council (DEC) provides overall strategic direction and oversight for disaster management and response as well as declaring States of Emergency. This body is chaired by the President (or alternatively Vice-President) and comprises the eight Ministers, a Council of Chiefs representative, the Chair of the Governor’s Association, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Delegates.


Beneath the DEC, the National Emergency Committee (NEC) is responsible for disaster risk reduction policy and takes responsibility for the coordination of emergency response including providing advice to the DEC (particularly on Emergency Declarations). The NEC also requests and coordinates external assistance. The NEC, chaired by the Vice-President, comprises representatives from a wide range of government agencies plus Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). During a disaster event, the NEC will operate from the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). The National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) provides administrative support for the NEC.


The lead agency in Disaster Response is NEMO, the head of whom takes the role of the Executive Director for Coordination in the event of a disaster event. Within the NEC is the Central Control Group (CCG). This entity is flexible and its members will be chosen by the NEMO Coordinator (as the Executive Director for Coordination) during the response phase of a disaster. The tier which represents on-site management of emergency or disaster events is the Incident Command Post (ICP). The management of incidents follows the National Incident Management System.
Palau is a democratic presidential republic governed under the Constitution of 1981 and follows a modified US form of constitutionalism. The President, who is both Head of State and the Head of Government, is directly elected every four years (as is the Vice-President, separately). They cannot serve more than two terms. The Palau Olbiil Era Kelulau (National Congress) is bi-cameral. The Senate is elected by universal suffrage nationwide from multimember constituencies. The exact number of Senators changes regularly but is currently set at 13. The House of Delegates comprise one member elected from each from Palau’s 16 States. All of the legislators serve 4-year terms and stand as independents as there are no organised political parties in Palau. Alongside the National Congress, The Council of Chiefs, comprising the highest traditional chiefs from each of the 16 States, sits as an advisory body to the President. The Council is consulted on matters concerning traditional laws and customs. A member of the Council cannot simultaneously be a member of the Olbiil Era Kelulau.


The cabinet comprises the heads of the eight Ministries (including the Vice-President) as set down in legislation. These Ministers are proposed by and serve at the will of the President but must be confirmed by the Senate. In accordance with the US model it emulates, Palau operates a strict separation of powers with Minsters barred from serving in the Olbiil Era Kelulau or the Council of Chiefs.


Palau is divided into 16 states representing the traditional island territories of the archipelago. These local government entities are free to draw up their own constitutions reflecting their own governance traditions although each has its own head of government (Governor) and an elected council. Despite their name, Palau is not a federal entity and the states of Pulau have very little formal authority aside from the ability to raise taxes and borrow funds (subject to the approval of the Olbiil Era Kelulau) outside that delegated by national legislation.


Palau is in free association with the United States and has been so since independence (in 1994). The compact is similar to those that the United States had entered into with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands and will not expire until 2044. The arrangement provides for significant financial support for Palau, but this element of the agreement is problematic. After negotiations in 2010 led to amendments to the compact, the US Congress took until 2017 to finally enact them. These financial aspects of the Compact are due to be re-negotiated in 2023. Although Palau is a sovereign state (and member of the United Nations), defence matters remain the responsibility of the United States. In addition, Palau utilises the US dollar as its currency.