CNMI GOVERNOR PAINTS GRIM PICTURE OF FUTURE

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Fitial addresses mayor conference about grim outlook

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 15, 2009) – Fitial yesterday told visiting mayors from the Pacific region that the economic and social consequences of federalization appear quite grim, including the removal of foreign workers not eligible for federal visas in five years and the elimination of Russian and Chinese tourists.

Fitial, the first resource speaker at yesterday's opening of the 2nd Annual Pacific Mayor's Conference, focused on the issue, "Beyond the economic and social impacts of federalization."

Public Law 110-229 places the CNMI under federal immigration control, with the five-year transition period starting on Nov. 28.

Fitial, who sued the U.S. government over federalization, said he will be in Washington, D.C. to testify on May 19 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Ocean and Wildlife on the implementation of the federalization law.

The governor said the provisions restricting the CNMI's access to workers, tourists and investors were done, in part, in the name of U.S. national security.

In his remarks, Fitial said national security interests can be protected and advanced without unduly damaging the CNMI's economic and social security.

"I think federalization can work if the law us modified to meet our existing economic and social needs, if the necessary flexibility is in place to allow us reasonable access to tourists, workers and investors. And this is what we are now working to try to achieve," he said.

A big portion of the CNMI's guest worker population comes from the Philippines, whose mayors are represented at the conference.

Fitial said independent economic studies supported his view of the grim consequences of federalization.

"Let me be clear about what happened here: The federalization of the CNMI's immigration system was established without a meaningful economic study of its potential impact. And the law was passed during the most economically vulnerable period in the CNMI's history," he added.

He cited, for example, the loss of at least $185 million in indirect economic impact annually brought by Chinese and Russian tourists to the CNMI.

"Despite being just one-tenth of total visitor arrivals, visitors from [China] and Russia accounted for 19.6 percent of the CNMI's total tourism revenue," he said.

Besides the governor, other ranking CNMI officials who were at the mayors' conference were Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos, Senate President Pete P. Reyes, House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, Saipan Mayor Juan B. Tudela and Rota Mayor Joseph S. Inos.

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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