FITIAL LIFTS EMERGENCY DECLARATION AT CNMI PORTS

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Action follows election of new board of directors

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 4, 2008) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Governor Benigno R. Fitial yesterday lifted the emergency declaration for the Commonwealth Ports Authority upon the organization of a new board of directors that elected returning member Jose Lifoifoi as their chairman.

Commonwealth Ports Authority acting Executive Director Lee Cabrera gestures during the CPA board of directors meeting yesterday at the Saipan Port. Listening intently is CPA Chairman Jose Lifoifoi. Photo by Mark Peñaranda

Fitial attended the board’s first meeting to swear in two of its members, Rota’s Barry Toves and former Tinian Sen. Manuel Villagomez.

The board’s Saipan members, besides former Speaker Loifoifoi, are former Sen. Thomas P. Villagomez, former Rep. Benigno M. Sablan and Fermin Sakisat.

"I have high confidence in this new board and with the leadership of one of the capable returning members, Lifoifoi, I sincerely hope they will continue the progressive work in line with resolving CPA’s bond indenture problem," Fitial told Variety.

He issued an executive order yesterday stating that during the CPA state of emergency declaration, actions were taken to address the technical default on the bonds by increasing revenues and decreasing costs of the agency.

Among these actions were the imposition of rate increases for emplanement and landing fees on airlines as recommended by bond consultant Ricondo & Associates which was hired "pursuant to the requirements of the indenture."

An increase in airport incinerator charges was also implemented as well the imposition of charges for airport triturator services.

CPA likewise terminated the airline incentive program, which cost the commonwealth approximately $2 million a year, and implementated austerity measures, including a freeze on travel, overtime, hiring as well as operational cuts and reduction in work hours.

Elected as the board’s vice chairman was Thomas P. Villagomez while Sakisat will be the secretary.

Lifoifoi, who chaired the board during the previous administration, designated the following committee chairmen: financial affairs, Toves; personnel, Sakisat; airport facilities committee, Manuel Villagomez; and seaport facilities, Sablan.

According to Lifoifoi, "It is a must that we address this concern on the bond indenture agreement. The board will review Ricondo’s rate recommendations and will finally act on it…to set new rates."

Frances Morgan Okougbo of the Bank of Guam, the bond trustee, noted that "CPA did a positive U-turn — tremendous work was made in the last months but there is still work to be done and I ask this new board to hear the concerns with your hearts and heads."

She added, "This is critical to your economy…and it’s like a dying plane, but we’re going to survive."

Okougbo said the bank will continue to provide assistance to CPA until the problem with the bond is addressed.

She urged the board to be transparent when making important decisions.

Ukougbo described the governor’s earlier emergency declaration and cost-cutting steps for the agency as "necessary."

She said once the CPA board approves the new airport rates, the bond’s trustees will "absolutely concur."

The governor has said that his emergency declaration avoided a technical default on the March 1, 1998 indenture on CPA’s airport revenue bonds.

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