FITIAL PLAYS POLITICS AS CNMI PROBLEMS LOOM

Editorial

Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (June 16) – Heaps of credit go to Representatives Deleon Guerrero, Seman, and Tebuteb for voting against the deferred payment measure, and to the Retirement Fund chairman for speaking out against this short-sighted Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands measure. But more must be done to prevent its enactment into law. Those against it should roll up their sleeves and develop a more rational and more sustainable pension system instead of simply pointing out the defects of the administration’s questionable proposals.

As administration officials put on determined faces in explaining their layoff plan, they neglect to add that a good number of employees about to get their pink slips are political hires signed on in the last few months of the Babauta administration. Every administration signs on hundreds of employees in the months leading up to an election, but this is usually done on a provisional basis and rarely goes beyond 90 days. So when the new governor is sworn in, the political hires are simply let go. Then-Governor Babauta’s approach, however, was a little more insidious. In the waning months of his doomed administration, he signed on hundreds of new employees and not on a provisional basis, thus burdening the already cash-strapped government to the tune of millions of dollars.

In any case, it now appears that the Fitial administration would like the public to think that its layoff plan is part of a serious campaign to streamline government service by cutting the workforce based on a rational assessment of need. But no. There is, however, no doubt that along with the politically unreliable, there are some hard-working individuals on the list of the soon-to-be laid off, but that’s how it is in a system steeped in political favoritism and not personal merit.

The administration says the unemployment rate is around 14 percent, but this still does not include the hundreds of government employees hired to vote "the right way," and those recently laid off. Government officials are urging the private sector to absorb the jobless at a time when these companies are also cutting their own employment rosters. Still, with the minimum wage stuck at US$3.05 an hour, the private sector is fairly confident that it won’t have a hoard of former government employees submitting job applications.

Other problems loom. After months of review and consideration, the Board of Education members cannot come to agreement on a new commissioner. A formal review process, previously agreed upon, was abandoned, and this is why no agreement is possible. Consensus is extremely important in a process like this as is public confidence that the Board of Education members all agree on a set of hiring principles, qualifications and objectives, and that they will make a selection based on a rational system and not personal preference.

The Commonwealth Port Authority, meanwhile, is still without an executive director and now has to deal with the governor’s stated preference without blatantly abandoning Commonwealth Port Authority’s own employment process and needs.

Government agencies, however, should always defer to their time-honored, formal review and selection process, which usually works to everyone’s benefit in the end. Shortcuts, by their very nature, avoid debate, as well as prolonged and sometimes difficult consideration and deliberation. The alternative, however, is worse problems down the road, which could have been avoided if processes were followed.

June 16, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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