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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 10, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Faced with the problem of providing full public services to three major islands in the Northern Marianas amid economic contraction, the Commonwealth needs to collect funds from the U.S. government under provisions of Compacts of Free Association.

Close to $30 million worth of government services to citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS) were shouldered by the Commonwealth in 1997 and 1998, minus the benefit of federal support in the form of Compact impact aid.

Unlike Guam, which is also home to several hundreds of migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, CNMI is yet to receive reimbursement of the funds spent by the local government in hosting citizens of the Compact states.

According to Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio, the CNMI government spent approximately $13.7 million in Fiscal Year 1997 and another $15.1 million the following year for the provision of services to FAS citizens.

Mr. Tenorio pointed out that the Commonwealth is burdened with the cost of these services without the benefit of federal support in the form of Compact aid, thereby aggravating the local government's budget deficit problems.

"The CNMI is faced with the problem of providing full government services to three islands in the form of police, utilities, air and sea ports, education, health, roads and so on, in the face of a declining economy and no support from the federal government in the form of Compact impact aid, although Guam receives such aid," he said.

Citizens of the Freely Associated States have the right of residency in Guam and the CNMI and other U.S. areas.

Under the Compacts of Free Association, Guam and CNMI governments shoulder expenses for health, education and other services extended to FAS citizens, which is then to be reimbursed by the U.S.

Mr. Tenorio emphasized that although the CNMI is part of the legislation under which Guam receives funding, the Commonwealth has not been reimbursed for the services it provides Compact states citizens, which puts more pressure on the deficit problem.

The local chief executive said the CNMI had been billing the United States government for reimbursements since the 1980's but nothing has been finalized so far.

This, even as the U.S. Congress openly recognized that the federal government should reimburse the money spent by the CNMI in accommodating FAS migrants.

Under the Compacts of the Free Association, residents from Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk and Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands can migrate to U.S. island-territories like Guam and the CNMI, as well as to the State of Hawai‘i without restrictions.

The agreement guarantees the provision of education, medical and other state benefits to the migrating Micronesians, which will be shouldered by the local governments and will, in turn, be reimbursed by the United States through Congressional appropriations.

The Hay Group, in 1997, reported that the government spent $21 million in 1996 to accommodate FAS citizens in the islands. This figure is translated to at least $4,000 per Micronesian immigrant.

The Hay Group report disclosed that CNMI was a home to at least 5,308 FAS citizens in 1995. The group represented 8.6 percent of the Commonwealth's total population, registered at 61,607.

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

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