CNMI CARRIES $45 MILLION DEBT TO LANDOWNERS

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, December 18) – The cash-strapped Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government has yet to pay US$44.7 million in land compensation despite floating a bond for this purpose.

Records from the Department of Public Lands reveal that as of Dec. 14 the government was still liable to pay 327 landowners on Saipan, Rota and Tinian for parcels of land taken from them for public purposes.

The government also has yet to pay the US$40 million bond it floated two years ago for land compensation claims

DPL’s Deputy Secretary Ramon Salas said only US$52,000 is left from the $40 million.

Salas said the remaining amount will be wiped out by the end of this month as they are processing claims from two landowners.

Public Law 13-17 was signed by then-Gov. Juan N, Babauta in July 2002 authorizing DPL’s predecessor, the Marianas Public Lands Authority (MPLA), to incur public debt for settling land compensation claims against the government.

The government has to pay on the bond for the next 30 years at an interest of 6.75 percent per annum.

DPL’s finance division director David Atalig said only US$28 million went to the land compensation fund because US$10 million was allotted for the prison facility project while the rest went to broker and insurance bond fees.

He said over US$27.9 million has been disbursed for land compensation in a span of two years, leaving the present administration with not enough money to pay the other claimants, some of whom have already brought the matter to court, while others are threatening to do so.

The Office of the Public Auditor is now in the process of reviewing MPLA’s implementation of the land compensation act.

OPA analyst manager Reginald Furr said they want to determine whether the land compensation fund was disbursed properly and accurately.

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