Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Dec. 1) – Some years ago, Northern Marianas College conducted a study to determine why Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands locals would rather not work in the private sector. Yes, go ahead. Laugh. I surely did.

I believe the finding was that locals and other U.S. citizens of this U.S. commonwealth had an "attitude problem": they wanted to be paid U.S. wage rates.

But at least the Northern Marianas College study, however ridiculous it was, did not dare offer ridiculous policy recommendations like the ones Office of the Public Auditor is now suggesting.

There is, I now realize, a cycle to these issues. They’re regurgitated from time to time by scatty public officials and duly reported by an amnesic media. Nothing will happen, years will pass, and eventually we will all repeat the cycle.

And so here we are, again.

The reason locals and other U.S. citizens prefer to work for the government has never been a secret, but for Office of the Public Auditor’s sake we should spell it out: Government job = more pay for less work; private sector job = less pay for real work.

It’s as simple as that. Sure there are some locals in the private sector, but that’s mainly because they still can’t land one of those cushy government jobs — the slots for which, despite the government’s cash-strapped condition, will miraculously open every time election day approaches or a new administration is sworn into office.

But don’t tell that to Office of the Public Auditor. Or to the other Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands officials who, in the past, said the same thing that the public auditor is now saying about the issue of local unemployment: the labor department is not fully enforcing the law, employers are violating the rules, locals don’t really mind being paid low wages, etc., etc.

This time, however, Office of the Public Auditor has kicked it up a notch. The public auditor says the government should tax employers for hiring alien workers. He even mentioned Singapore, "which has similar workforce issues as the commonwealth." That should be news to the Singaporeans.

Singapore has a highly developed market-based economy and has been rated as the most business-friendly economy in the world. It employs thousands of foreign workers because its robust economy continues to create various jobs particularly in the Information Technology and financial sectors. Last month, its government announced that Singapore has recorded its highest employment rate in 15 years. Moreover, according to an online encyclopedia, Singapore "is aggressively pushing for the permanent assimilation of these foreign workers by offering easier processing time for permanent residency or citizenship."

But Office of the Public Auditor says the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where the jobless rate is probably more than 14 percent now, is like Singapore, and the commonwealth government should further raise the cost of doing business in this lousy economy…"just like" in Singapore, which has the highest standard of living in Asia, is ranked 11th in the world, and is the 22nd wealthiest country.

Back here in the real world, let’s hear what a CNMI businessman has to say about Office of the Public Auditor’s proposal: "It seems we have another misguided, ill-informed, shortsighted government official who skipped Economics 101. Employers, of which I am one, who employ foreign contract workers already pay exorbitant annual fees for employing them — US$275 for registering at labor, another US$25 for the alien registration card, approximately US$180 for health exams, health certificates and food handlers certificates. All that besides paying for their housing, healthcare, transportation to and from work and duty meals plus US$50 for bonding. With everything factored in, this amounts to paying foreign contract workers more than the federal minimum wage of US$5.15. The real problem with hiring local resident workers is not that contract workers cost the employer less; it is because most local resident workers don’t want and won’t take the majority of jobs the foreign contract workers fill. To impose an additional tax on employers who employ foreign contract workers is very short-sighted and unconscionable and will inevitably drive more businesses to close, reduce the BGRT the government collects, drive up unemployment, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum."

Perhaps this is, again, news to government officials like the public auditor but the private sector deals with the real world and not with Lala Land. In the real world, bad business decisions are punished and punished hard. A company cannot just ask for debt forgiveness and bailouts, hire deadwood employees and pay them ridiculously high wages and benefits while lowering quality standards and suspending payments to contractors and suppliers.

In the CNMI, only the government can do all that and then lecture the private sector about the need to "take care of our community."

God help us all.

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