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By Cookie B. Micaller

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 27, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio said yesterday the Northern Marianas is still capable of implementing reforms and vowed to maintain control of the minimum wage and immigration amid plans of Washington to introduce a new proposal on federal takeover of these commonwealth functions.

Negotiations aimed at resolving CNMI and U.S. differences in addressing problems arising from local labor and immigration policies bogged down last week due to the irreconcilable positions of the two governments.

White House representatives to the Section 902 consultations, unconvinced that commonwealth officials can reform labor and immigration, say they will draft new legislation to put these functions under federal authority.

The revised version, according to U.S. officials, will include a transition period to federal immigration and minimum wage laws and allow workers greater mobility to switch jobs. They also promised to take into consideration its adverse impact on the island's economy as well as recognize CNMI's right to self-government.

"Our position is we would like to maintain (control of) labor, immigration and minimum wage," the Governor said, but he declined to disclose plans how his administration would thwart fresh attempts of the White House for takeover.

He said he has no plans of tapping the services of Preston, Gates, Rouvellas and Meads, a prestigious Seattle-based law firm hired by his predecessor to lobby in the U.S. Congress against administration-sponsored legislation, due to funding problems.

"I still believe that we can do it," the Governor said, as he brushed aside a five-point recommendation put forward by President Clinton's special representative, Edward B. Cohen, that the island government should put in place while the legislation is being crafted. "We've been doing that. We don't have to be told what to do."

At the end of a four-day meeting last week with CNMI's representatives to the Section 902 discussions, Cohen proposed that the commonwealth immediately implement the following measures to augment its reform efforts:

In a separate interview, Labor and Immigration Secretary Mark Zachares said Cohen's proposals were already being implemented by his department.

Zachares explained that under a new regulation manpower companies and security agencies are now required to post cash bonds to reputable bonding companies, adding that a similar plan is under study to cover all employers in the islands.

But Zachares expressed strong reservation over Cohen's proposal to pay the wages of non-resident workers through banks or a third party. "It's not too practical. I guess we will leave this decision to individual employees," he said.

On the enforcement of judicial orders, a concern raised during his presentation at the 902 talks, Zachares said his department has already put in place plans to beef up its legal team to better serve the foreign workers.

According to Zachares, he was glad that Cohen recognized CNMI's suggestion to set up an entry/exit monitoring system at the airport to track non-resident workers, a proposal which was met with lukewarm treatment by Insular Affairs Director Allen P. Stayman.

"I'm happy that Mr. Cohen supported that idea. He just needs to talk to Stayman to be on the boat," Zachares said.

Even before the project could start, Stayman said the proposed measure, which will be implemented under the Labor and Immigration Identification Systems, would do little to improve the monitoring of foreign workers.

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

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