Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Nov. 6, 2009) - RELIEF is in sight. Tomorrow, qualified voters will, we hope, select candidates ready to change the way business is done in the commonwealth.

Right now, airlines and tourists shun the CNMI, investors run into roadblocks, the hospital is in shambles, the utility will have to hike power rates, and the Retirement Fund pension is at risk. No new capital improvement projects have been built in the last four years and Garapan, the island’s premiere tourist location, is a cesspool of stagnated water, weeds, trash and dirt. Crime is at an all time high as the community reels from one disaster to another, rendering the people numb to any promise of change.

The commonwealth did not arrive at this place overnight. It is the result of years of poor governance and legislators who never directly suffered the consequences of bad legislation. One indication that the system is broken is the number of gubernatorial candidates who stand for office every four years. This reveals deep divisions in the community and the absence of shared values or common purpose.

The CNMI needs leaders whose appointments will be selected on the basis of qualifications and experience, regardless of party affiliation, race, age or gender. This doesn’t guarantee a favorable outcome, but it increases the chances of governing well. At CHC, for example, it will certainly go a long way to assuring that the hospital is able to recruit and keep good professional and technical staff, that it is able to procure supplies, materials, services and equipment it needs to operate efficiently. Burdening the hospital and utility with nonessential, temporary workers to curry favor with voters is to ensure that both cannot deliver basic services to the community while jeopardizing public safety.

There is, to be sure, no quick solution to the commonwealth’s problems. The only way out of this mess is unattractive. It requires patience and consistency.

The CNMI, for starters, must plan for development, move capital improvement projects quickly, and enlist the federal government’s assistance to bring the airlines back. At the same time, the commonwealth must develop infrastructure to withstand typhoons, oil hikes, make neighborhoods safer and more attractive, and the islands a more interesting place to visit. But how is it possible to accomplish any of these things when the number of burglaries and thefts is growing, when more and more buildings are abandoned for lack of tenants, when government contracts are handed out not on the basis of competition, but association, and when government agencies are run by cronies, mostly without the credentials or experience to run even a mom and pop store?

Successive chief executives give little thought to top appointments, forgetting that government departments provide public services. It should not be surprising then that police officers are on the verge of a strike, the hospital can barely deliver medical services, and CUC can’t make routine repairs or replace hardware for lack of funds, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars pumped into it.

None of these problems are new and there is plenty of blame to go around. To cite another example, one cannot neglect to pay the Retirement Fund for 12 years with no consequence. Fiduciary duty seems to have had little meaning over the years and this has huge repercussions for thousands of retirees. The executive and legislative branches have shaved off extraneous benefits and most of the abusive practices have been halted, but a new direction is now required to stop the bleeding and stabilize the Retirement Fund.

Tomorrow, you must elect a leader who understands exactly what he will face in office. The CNMI can no longer afford to have officials who merely claim to know what the problems are and, once sworn in, demonstrate helplessness and lack of knowledge. The commonwealth needs someone who is aware about the deterioration that is happening each day and is prepared to make the tough decisions to correct it.

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