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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNorthern Mariana Islands (Saipan Tribune, March 30) – The Northern Mariana Islands Retirement Fund has taken a total of US$24.9 million from its investment assets to pay for pensions and refunds amid the government's failure to remit needed contributions.

"This [US$24.9 million] is the amount so far as of as March 21," said Fund administrator Mark A. Aguon Wednesday.

He said that for fiscal year 2007 beginning Oct. 1, 2006, the drawn amount totaled US$14.6 million.

"We've spent more in the last six months that in the past four years combined," said Aguon.

This came about after the central government enacted a law suspending its employer contribution to the Fund for 18 months ending in September 2007.

As of April this year, the central government's outstanding debt with the Fund in employer contributions totaled US$85 million.

Earlier, the Fund said that it approved to set aside over US$35 million in investments money for pension use. This may eventually reach up to US$50 million, Aguon had said.

He said that withdrawal of money takes place only when needed, which means twice a month for the 15th and 30th pension payment.

The Fund pays out nearly US$5 million a month for pension obligations. The amount varies, depending on the number of beneficiaries and the obligations involved.

For fiscal year 2005 the pension payment reached US$60 million.

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