CNMI AGENCY SEEKS TRAVEL ALLOWANCE INCREASE

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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 1) – The Commonwealth Ports Authority wants to raise the per diem allowance rate of its employees traveling off-island, even as the Office of the Public Auditor wants a repeal of all directives and regulations pertaining to Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government travel and to adopt the federal regulations instead to deter abuses, Variety learned.

Commonwealth Ports Authority’s proposed per diem rates range from US$175 to US$300.

Commonwealth Ports Authority said the per diem rate for travels within the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – Saipan, Tinian and Rota – should be US$175.

This is much higher than the US$85 cap that the Department of Finance’s existing emergency regulations allow for travel within the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Commonwealth Ports Authority is an autonomous agency.

Public Auditor Mike Sablan yesterday said the Office of the Public Auditor is now evaluating the advantages of adopting the federal regulations on government travel which provide uniform rates depending on the place of travel, easier to comply with and easier to monitor.

The Babauta administration, before leaving office, tried to cap the per diem allowance for government travel through regulations, but the Office of the Public Auditor said it would be better if the changes were made into law.

"We are considering making a proposal to the Legislature to repeal all travel policies and directives across the government and, in their place, adopt the federal regulations and make these into law. We are now evaluating the federal regulations," he said.

Commonwealth Ports Authority, in proposing to amend its personnel rules said, "the current per diem rates are no longer realistic."

It added that the per diem rates conforming to those established by the Federal Aviation Administration more equitably cover costs incurred by employees of the Commonwealth Ports Authority during off-island travel.

Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director Lee Cabrera yesterday said there were analyses made of the Ports Authority’s per diem rates which suggest they need increasing.

"The rates we are proposing are of course higher than those currently given to employees," said Cabrera, adding that the current rates will be disclosed soon.

A US$200 per diem rate is proposed for travel to Guam, Palau, Chuuk, Kosrae, Majuro, Pohnpei and Yap.

Finance’s existing emergency regulations cap the per diem allowance for Guam travel to only US$175, and US$150 to the Federated States of Micronesia.

Commonwealth Ports Authority also proposed a US$200 per diem rate for travel to the U.S. mainland, except for Hawaii, California, New York and Washington, D.C. which have a US$250 per diem rate.

The highest per diem rate of US$300 is proposed for travel to Japan, and all Far East and Southeast Asian countries.

This is higher than Finance’s emergency regulations of a US$275 per diem allowance cap for travel to Japan.

February 1, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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