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State of emergency declared for power plants

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 10, 2010) - Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday that US$1.2 million will be given to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. for its immediate purchase of fuel to run the power plants.

The governor said the administration will continue to find money for CUC, which is now directly under the governor’s office.

"CUC needs not only US$1.2 million. The US$1.2 million is what we need immediately. After next week, we need more," Fitial said in an interview shortly before he was to deliver his welcoming remarks for over 850 young Japanese businessmen at the American Memorial Park in Garapan late yesterday afternoon.

Fitial reprogrammed for CUC a little over US$300,000 on Tuesday, the same day he declared a state of emergency for the CNMI due to the lack of sufficient fuel to power the islands’ generators and the imminent threat this poses to the continued supply of water and electrical services.

The declaration suspends procurement and regulatory provisions to allow the governor to reprogram funds as necessary to meet emergency needs.

Fitial said yesterday that the US$300,000 came from the security deposits paid by CUC customers.

CUC was able to buy 126,000 gallons of fuel as a result of the US$300,000 emergency funding.

Fitial also said a portion of the US$1.2 million that will also be given to CUC will come from the Department of Public Lands.

Public Lands Secretary Oscar M. Babauta, when asked for comment, said DPL has yet to transmit money to the general fund as reimbursement for administrative costs spent on the department.

Babauta said DPL remits some US$750,000 each quarter to the general fund for administrative and other costs such as personnel expenses and utility billings.

"We will remit what’s due to the general fund. I hope other agencies will follow suit," he said.

The governor said the administration does not want a repeat of the rolling blackouts, so he invoked his constitutional authority to declare a state of emergency so he can reprogram funds for CUC.

To his critics, Fitial challenged them to come up with a solution better than an emergency declaration to be able to buy fuel for CUC.

"If there are other sources of money maybe we don’t have to resort to emergency. If the Legislature grants [reprogramming] authority and the Legislature would allow for austerity we have been asking for, we could have prevented emergency," Fitial added.

The Senate rejected the House proposal to cut work hours by 10 hours every pay period to reduce government spending. A conference committee on the controversial austerity bill has been formed.

The governor said the other part of the problem "is the fact that we’re not collecting our receivables."

The central government, the Public School System and Northern Marianas College owe CUC US$3.8 million in past due utility bills. The government is CUC’s biggest customer.

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