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By Benhur C. Saladores Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 3, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---The government has renewed its call for reimbursement of over $100 million that the United States has owed the Northern Marianas for its assistance to citizens of the Freely Associated States under Compact of Free Association agreements with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

CNMI officials presented testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific during a recent hearing in Washington D.C. on the accord’s federal financial aid to the Marshalls and the FSM.

The testimony detailed fiscal impacts of the Compact to the local coffers from 1986 to 1998, which the island government estimated to be between $80 million to $108 million. Last year, $15 million was spent using taxpayers' dollars to assist FAS nationals.

The Commonwealth coughs up an average of $15 million every year to subsidize various social services delivered to citizens of the FSM, the Marshalls and Palau, which have forged the agreements with the U.S.

So far, the CNMI has received payment of close to $2.8 million in the form of grants released in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. Island leaders have repeatedly asked Washington for reimbursement of other costs for the past few years due to the CNMI’s economic decline.

The Compact's impact on the CNMI has come under scrutiny in recent months as Washington re-negotiates with the Marshalls and the FSM the terms of the accord that will expire in 2001, specifically on U.S. financial and program assistance as well as the so-called "defense veto" and provisions on additional base rights.

Over the past 13 years, the federal government has pumped more than $2.6 billion in support for the FSM and the Marshalls, with $2 billion in direct payment to both governments that Subcommittee chair Rep. Doug Bereuter described was provided with minimal or no oversight.

The hearing, held June 28 in the nation's capital, was attended by several officials, including Susan Westin, an associate director at the U.S. General Accounting Office, which conducted an investigation into the Compact's aid to the two Micronesian countries; Office of Insular Affairs Director Ferdinand Aranza and Allen P. Stayman, special negotiator for the Compact.

New Formula

According to Mr. Bereuter, both the U.S. and FAS must reformulate the financial relationship amid changing times, and with greater accountability on the part of the two island nations.

Mr. Stayman, a former OIA director who was designated last year as chief Compact negotiator for the U.S., underscored the need for continued economic assistance to the FSM and the Marshalls, while reviewing the migration provision of the agreement.

He said Washington is looking into ways to address the impact of free migration by FAS nationals to the U.S. and its territories, particularly Hawai‘i, Guam and the CNMI.

One of the solutions proposed will allow compensation to the three jurisdictions for the problems associated with hosting these citizens.

An estimated 3,118 migrants from the Marshalls, Palau and FSM were recorded by the CNMI government in 1997, although it believed that the number has increased during the past three years.

The wealthier Pacific governments have protested apparent failure by Washington to reimburse the costs of education, health, housing and social welfare, which was promised when it signed the initial agreement in 1986.

Other proposals broached by Mr. Stayman included a plan to apply admission requirements, such as health and criminal background checks, for FAS citizens before they enter U.S. soil as well as federal grants to improve health and education in their home countries.

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

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