MARIANAS GOVERNMENT PAY CUTS UNDER REVIEW

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Mar 19) – After learning that only 11 of 42 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands elected officials and members of the judiciary have voluntarily taken a 10 percent cut in their salaries, the Office of the Public Auditor says the second phase of its review will focus on the austerity- measure participation of cabinet members, other appointed government officials like agency directors and comptrollers, and heads of autonomous agencies.

The third phase will review the exemptions from Public Law 15-24 or the austerity Friday law and their impact on government finances, including those given to doctors, teachers and police officers.

Public Auditor Mike Sablan yesterday said many people have requested an OPA assessment of the impact of the austerity measure "before further cuts are implemented."

"The review provides useful information to policy makers, like members of the Legislature before they implement additional (pay) cuts…The purpose of the first phase of the review is to appeal for voluntary participation in the government austerity measures," said Sablan.

OPA will review the participation of Cabinet members, directors, and heads of autonomous agencies.

"They include those appointed by the governor, those appointed by mayors, and those appointed by boards, among others," said Sablan.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr., who himself is not exempted from the 10 percent pay cut, said he was not aware of any cabinet member exempt from the salary reduction.

"The law covers the entire Cabinet unless specific exemptions are granted by the governor or lt. governor as provided for in the law," Reyes said.

Attorney General Matthew Gregory, according to Reyes, is receiving US$72,000 per year instead of US$80,000.

"He is subject to the 10 percent pay cut, and he may also be suffering from a much larger pay cut compared to his market-based compensation from his previous private sector law practice," said Reyes.

Finance Secretary Eloy Inos, Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez and Labor Secretary Gil San Nicolas separately confirmed with Variety that their salaries have been cut by 10 percent since the austerity Fridays law started last year.

"I am getting paid only for 72 hours every two weeks since the austerity law took effect," Inos told Variety in an e-mail.

Rep. Absalon Waki Jr., Covenant Saipan, earlier asked OPA which elected officials and members of the judiciary have voluntarily taken a 10 percent cut in their salaries that many other employees throughout the CNMI government have been forced to accept pursuant to P.L. 15-24.

OPA, in its response on Thursday, said only 11 of 42 elected officials and members of the judiciary have taken a 10 percent wage cut.

The public auditor said it is "unfortunate" that those in the higher brackets of government’s pay scale whose 10 percent contribution would make a larger impact have elected not to take the reduction.

"The voluntary acceptance of a 10 percent reduction by all elected officials and members of the judiciary would serve as a morale booster and encourage employees throughout the government to be more supportive and understanding of their forced reduction in pay," said Sablan.

Waki said he is still contemplating his next move to get non-participating elected officials to "pitch in" like all other government employees who are contributing to the austerity measure.

Waki is one of only four members of the House of Representatives who have voluntarily taken a 10 percent cut in their salaries.

The others are Reps. Stanley T. Torres, Ind.-Saipan, Cinta M. Kaipat, Covenant-Saipan, and Frank S. Dela Cruz, Covenant-Saipan. Vice Speaker Justo S. Quitugua, D-Saipan, has been donating his salary to the CNMI Scholarship Office.

In the Senate, Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian, and Sen. Maria T. Pangelinan, D-Saipan, have accepted pay cuts, while Senate Vice President Pete P. Reyes, Ind.-Saipan, donates his salary to the CNMI Scholarship Office.

In the executive branch, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez have volunteered to cut their salaries by 10 percent, while none of the eight members of the CNMI Supreme Court or Superior Court has done so.

Only one of the four mayors — Rota Mayor Joseph S. Inos — has been donating his salary to the CNMI Scholarship Office.

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