ABOLISH U.S. OFFICE OF INSULAR AFFAIRS: CNMI SENATOR REYES

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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 8, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Senate Floor Leader Pete P. Reyes yesterday reiterated his call to abolish the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) for its failure to assist the Northern Marianas, as it (OIA) persists in criticizing the island government despite ongoing labor and immigration reforms.

Likewise, he lambasted anew OIA Director Allen P. Stayman over critical statements damaging to the image of the commonwealth that may dampen U.S. business interest in investing in the CNMI.

A vocal critic against OIA policies, Reyes said the federal office could have helped the island to attract American investors and spur the local economy at a time when it has continued to suffer from the fallout of the economic turmoil in Asia, its main source of tourism revenues and investments.

"It is their job to bring in U.S. companies into the island," the senator said in an interview, "but they have been playing an adversarial role and continued their attack against the CNMI."

Citing failure by OIA to assist the commonwealth, Reyes called on the Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over the office, to abolish the agency.

"We don't need them to look after us. We know our problems. They can't go on telling us what is good for us when they are more than 10,000 miles away," he said.

Reyes had sponsored a resolution when he was a member of the House of Representatives calling for the closure of OIA in view of its negative treatment of the CNMI, which is under its jurisdiction along with other U.S. territories.

But the OIA chief has been critical of the island's labor and immigration policies, accusing local leaders of inefficiency and lack of political resolve to curb the growing number of Asian migrant workers here.

"It could actually function to help us if it wants to do that. (The federal government) should replace Stayman who has been there for so long that he has become complacent and advocates against the CNMI," Reyes pointed out.

"He can't recognize the dynamic changes happening on our island," he added.

Reyes' statement followed outrage of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce on the OIA report on the CNMI-Federal Initiative on Labor, Immigration and Law Enforcement which has accused the local government of ignoring calls for reforms.

The chamber, however, lashed out at Stayman for his "baseless" comments that failed to account for efforts by island leaders to address Washington's concerns.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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