BOND SOUGHT FOR NORTHERN MARIANAS LANDOWNERS’ PAYMENTS

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By Jojo Dass

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 22, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Representative William Torres has expressed hope that his colleagues will support a proposed legislative initiative allowing use of bond earnings to compensate landowners whose properties have been taken by the government for public use.

His proposal amends the constitution to authorize the Office of Public Lands to use public land funds for debt service of a bond or other similar financial instrument used to pay back affected landowners.

It also adds a subsection in the constitution allowing the Marianas Public Land Trust to pledge the principal of its accounts as a guarantee to a bond issued for the landowners’ payments.

A legislative initiative requires the affirmative vote of three-fourths of the members of each houses of the legislature present and voting before it can be included in the ballot for people to vote on during an electoral exercise.

There have been various efforts by several lawmakers to raise money for the back payment.

Official estimates have pegged the amount needed to compensate landowners at about $80 million.

In an interview, Torres said issuing bonds to compensate landowners could finally address the longstanding concerns over back payments, usually concerning the use private land for road expansion and other undertakings necessary for public use.

Torres also proposed that the appraisal system for the land acquired be set at the original value of the land when it was taken.

He noted that with the appraised value of the land increasing every year, it has become almost impossible for the government to catch up with the payments.

Officials said landowners are expected to raise a howl over the proposal.

But Torres argued that it should be taken as part of the landowners’ commitment to the commonwealth, noting that the land is being used directly by local residents, which in turn promotes commerce and trade.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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