MARIANAS NEEDS MORE RESPONSIBLE LEADERS

Editorial

Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Nov. 2) – There will be a new leadership, at least in the House, when the 16th Legislature convenes in January. The House will no longer be aligned with the administration. But, as in the past, the Senate, controlled by Rota and Tinian, will "triangulate," and try to get the best deal from this scenario.

After tomorrow’s election, everything on Capital Hill will be about the 2009 gubernatorial poll, which means that not a lot will get done. But considering what has so far been done up there, that could be a good thing for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Now although a lot of voters are hoping to elect new lawmakers that could make a difference in the next two years, they also know, based on their experience, that they are likely to be disappointed. And they are right.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ problems are fundamental and systemic. They are rooted in the welfare system that the public has been used to all these years as typified by a statement I recently heard from a casino proponent. He said that on Tinian, which has a casino, if you have a headache, the mayor refers you right away to an off-island hospital (preferably Honolulu). This is supposed to be a good thing. This is supposed to be why Saipan too should have a casino. So the government can squander more taxpayer money than it is already doing.

Medical referrals are supposed to be for life-threatening emergencies. Citizens, for their part, are supposed to have medical insurance and are supposed to take care of their health. But no.

For the old politicos and for some of the more nostalgic voters, government should be Santa Claus and every day should be Christmas.

No need for self-initiative or personal accountability. All a voter has to do is vote for the candidates who will win on Election Day.

The challenge for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ more responsible politicians and officials is to repeatedly point out the connection between the government’s bankruptcy and this entitlement mind-set.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands needs leaders who will admit to the people that two, four, or even six years will not be enough to fix Commonwealth Utilities Corp, give Public Health, Department of Public Safety and Public School System adequate funding, bring back tourists, get new investors, create new jobs or end government austerity measures.

It can’t be done. Unless, that is, someone discovers oil in the commonwealth.

The party’s over and there is no going back to "the good old days." It’s a new world out there with new problems that require new solutions.

Voters must lower their expectations of what their government can do for them.

That’s why I keep saying that voters should never trust candidates who promise a lot. I don’t think I need to tell you why, but as an example, consider the casino initiatives on Saipan and Rota and listen to the "assurances" of their proponents.

If it sounds too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.

The new lawmakers who are elected tomorrow cannot solve the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ problems, but they can certainly enact needed reforms that can improve governance, and these include a commitment to an open government, an end to the passage of quickie and unfunded legislation, which means more deliberations and more public hearings.

Likewise, the passage of legislative initiatives requiring an annual balanced budget or an elected Attorney General would be major steps forward.

Let’s face it. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has yet to hit bottom, and the boom of the past was merely a bubble that is gone forever. Government is not Santa Claus. It is not Christmas every day.

In his interesting essay on the economies of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshalls published last year, Father Francis X. Hezel asked if economic development as we all define it — i.e, as it is known in the First World — is possible in small Pacific islands.

He cited a 1985 study in New Zealand about Pacific island economies which disclosed that almost all of them are dependent on remittances, aid and government employment. Hence, it is unrealistic to expect these islands to be "self-reliant" — they could be, but only if they revert to their pre-colonial days.

In other words, what these islands have so far achieved economically is probably the best that they can do.

Here in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the economy will continue to sink and, one day, settle to the level where it should have been all these years.

That economy can no longer support the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government’s wasteful spending habits and extravagant pay scales. The government will have to continue reducing or eliminate completely its generous dole-out programs.

Right now, more and more people should already know the answer to the question posed by the character played by Jack Nicholson in that 1997 movie to a group of depressed psychiatric patients: What if this is as good as it gets?

Marianas Variety

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