OIA’S ARANZA ENDS TRIP TO NORTHERN MARIANAS: WORKS TO IMPROVEWASHINGTON-SAIPAN RELATIONS - October 25, 199

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OIA’S ARANZA ENDS TRIP TO NORTHERN MARIANAS: WORKS TO IMPROVE WASHINGTON-SAIPAN RELATIONS

By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Oct. 22, 1999 – Saipan Tribune/Abridged)---Office of Insular Affairs Director Danny Aranza yesterday ended a two-day visit to the CNMI, acknowledging the "uphill battle" facing his efforts to restore ties with island leaders amid the ongoing congressional probe into the conduct of some OIA officials.

(SEE: U.S. Office Of Insular Affairs Official North Helped Democrats With Report: He Edited Study Before It Went To Congress)

Aranza said, however, he would welcome sanctions from Congress or any investigating panel against any OIA officials found guilty of alleged on-the-job political campaigning that used CNMI issues as weapons against the island's Republican supporters in Washington.

"Let the chips fall where they may," Aranza said at a news conference hours before his departure for Guam. "We don't condone wrongdoing and if (it) is proven, clearly the consequences will have to be paid and that will be appropriate."

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chair of the House Resources Committee, which has oversight of the CNMI and other insular areas, is investigating OIA and Interior Department officials for possible unlawful activities in launching damaging political attacks against Republican members of Congress.

Initial findings by the panel have indicated that the officials, along with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used CNMI issues as weapons to damage the GOP in a bid to assist Democratic opponents.

Aranza had been subpoenaed to produce documents from files and OIA computers, which he said he provided last August, but added that none of the files or OIA field office employees on Saipan has been made part of the probe.

"We've complied (with the subpoena) and the next step is up to Congress. We've already requested the Inspector General and the special counsel to undertake their investigations," he said. "Those are ongoing."

No role

He denied any direct role in the alleged misconduct, although he disclosed that he has provided information to Congress about CNMI since his employment with OIA in 1993.

Some of it included OIA-funded inquiries conducted by consultants and advocates.

"In retrospect, maybe it was one-sided. . . But what I'm here to do in my position now is to make sure that information coming from my office is balanced so that the facts will speak for themselves and we don't try to hedge things one way or another," said Aranza.

Some Commonwealth leaders have backed the probe as part of an effort to shed light on the continuous criticisms leveled by OIA against the island government.

Aranza, who had been the deputy director prior to assuming the post from former OIA director Allen P. Stayman last August, believes the investigation has had impact on his efforts to bridge OIA differences with the CNMI.

"Given an ideal world where there wouldn't be those investigations, that would make my job a lot easier but . . . it's an obstacle and it's there," said the new OIA chief.

Skepticism

While noting the air of skepticism surrounding his first official visit to the CNMI, he remained hopeful of easing tension that have characterized bilateral relations, largely due to conflicting positions on the local handling of labor and immigration functions.

"If you judge us by what actually happens, talk to me in three to four months and see what my office actually has done to help and see whether or not the attitude here. . . is changed," Aranza explained. "That will be the litmus test."

The Clinton Administration has been pushing legislation seeking to strip CNMI’s authority over local immigration, the minimum wage and custom standards due to what it considers the commonwealth’s failure to curb the number of alien workers and stem labor abuses.

The island government has opposed the move, noting its likely disastrous impact on the economy, which has declined in the past two years on the heels of the Asian recession.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio has said that his administration would work cooperatively with OIA and other federal agencies under its constructive engagement policy in a bid to augment financial assistance and U.S. support of the islands.

Cooperation

During their meeting on Wednesday, both officials agreed to set aside differences on labor and immigration issues and to work closely on other pressing issues, such as economic development, aviation and vocational training for local people.

There was no specific commitment, however, on which programs would get additional funding or increase federal assistance, including Compact-Impact costs that the CNMI has been demanding due to the presence of thousands of Freely Associated States (Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau) citizens.

"This relationship is not going to change overnight but my hope is that the actions the Governor and other people will see after this visit will speak volumes more than the words I say today," Aranza said.

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

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