Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (May 21, 2010) – The Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) will receive US$350,000 from the feds to update its strategic plan whose original version failed to meet its targets. Indeed, since this administration was sworn in four years ago, tourist arrivals have steadily declined. MVA blames regional competition and lack of funding, as if these were new challenges.

Everyone knows that Guam, Hawaii and Australia are more attractive destinations and that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government has been struggling financially, since 1998 in fact. The question is, what has MVA done to make the islands a better destination with the budget it has? Now MVA is saying that if it doesn’t get additional funding, it will "find other means to promote the islands." That should have been its main task since day one.

Tourism is the CNMI’s only remaining industry and every waking moment of the staff at MVA should be aimed at applying all means necessary to keep tourism afloat.

Why, in any case, should the U.S. Department of the Interior pay for such a vital tool as a strategic plan for MVA? Shouldn’t that be the first item on MVA’s own budget? What is MVA’s operational budget anyway? How many employees does it have? What independent contracting services does it pay for? Do any of them have any new ideas besides traveling and submitting press releases to local media?

The Fitial administration and its minions insist on self-government while depending on the feds for MVA’s strategic plan, requesting for more food stamps, demanding higher rent for federal detainees, seeking federal funds for a visitor center and practically begging the U.S. military to move to Tinian. This administration’s reliance on federal handouts continues to deepen while claiming to be mistreated by the same hand that feeds it.

The administration, in short, wants "self-government" without taking responsibility for its own incompetence, mismanagement and misgovernment.

Perhaps it is time now for CNMI voters to seriously consider whether the commonwealth could survive five more years of this catastrophic administration.

The governor’s claims that the CNMI was neither informed nor consulted by Interior are plain nonsense. He knew that Interior was drafting a report but he didn’t demand back then to be consulted. He also knew, since February, what the recommendation would be, but all he did was to state publicly that he would not oppose green cards for guest workers. He also refused to talk to visiting federal officials who ended up meeting with the lt. governor or cabinet members.

But the governor, in his testimony before the Bordallo panel, did offer one sensible proposal. He said he wants CNMI voters to be consulted, through a referendum this November, regarding Interior’s recommendation. This was our suggestion two weeks ago. It is, to be sure, up to the U.S. Congress whether to consider Interior’s proposal, but this is an issue that has tremendous importance for the future of the CNMI, and it is only right that the sentiments of commonwealth voters are heard loud and clear.

The governor, to be sure, is not alone when it comes to making imprudent decisions. Consider the Legislature’s move to block the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation’s (CUC) effort to raise its rates. CUC is in such a horrible mess precisely because of political interference with rational decisions required to continue providing services to customers. Legislative time would be better spent on figuring out a new budget and finding ways to attract new businesses to the CNMI, including investors who may be interested in taking over CUC’s power division and exploring renewable energy sources.

For once, CUC looks like it might be in good hands. Let CUC do its job unimpeded by political interference that is designed to win short-term public sentiment at the expense of long-term public good. Businesses have had to make cuts to keep their doors open and some families have also made adjustments in their lifestyle to make ends meet. But this government remains stuck in financial la-la land where you can spend money you don’t have, hire employees you don’t need and defy economic realities through legislation.

CUC is broke but we expect it to provide quality services which cost millions of dollars. It also has to comply with federal stipulated orders, which, again, requires millions of dollars. Where will it get the funding it needs? By firing its competent but non-local managers? The "savings" are probably about half a million dollars a year — spare change compared to the millions of dollars that will be lost if CUC is staffed, once again, with unqualified but politically connected managers, like the ones who have run the utilities into the ground.

Instead of educating the people about the costs of utilities, elected officials, by their actions, are giving the impression that they can stop rising fuel prices by simply saying no.

We’re hoping that these officials know they can’t.

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