CNMI SEEKS LAND TRUST LOAN TO MEET PAYROLL

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Government looking for other agency loans

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 24, 2010) - A bill seeking to allow the Marianas Public Land Trust to extend a US$4 million loan to the central government for payroll and other expenses will be up for amendment in today’s Senate session.

Senate President Paul A. Manglona (R-Rota) said yesterday the Senate wants to make sure that the bill is not in violation of Article X of the NMI Constitution’s provision on public indebtedness.

"We also asked for clarification whether it’s a loan or not," Manglona told Saipan Tribune.

Manglona was among the lawmakers who met with Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos and MPLT officials on Capital Hill yesterday afternoon.

MPLT board vice chair Alvaro Santos, in a separate phone interview, said MPLT has concerns on the wordings or language of the bill, which the House of Representatives passed on Friday.

Santos, who was also in the meeting along with other MPLT trustees, said MPLT was glad to have a meeting with lawmakers to address concerns about the bill.

"We’re able to iron out some of the misunderstandings, the nebulous, ambiguous language, and the intent of the bill. We pretty much cleared up things. We left the meeting with the feeling that most, if not all ambiguities were taken cared of. .It was a good meeting," Santos said.

He said the Senate also has concerns about the language and the legality of the bill.

Rep. Ray N. Yumul (R-Saipan), author of House Bill 17-78, HD1, said it is now in the hands of the Senate.

"This is why we have a session on Friday, to catch any amendments," he said.

Santos said MPLT hopes that the Senate will incorporate suggested changes to the bill’s language.

Once the Senate passes the bill, it goes back to the House, which will hold another session on Friday.

Inos earlier said the bill will be immediately signed into law once it reaches the governor’s desk.

Santos said once it becomes law, MPLT will sign a memorandum of understanding with the government on what he calls an "investment."

"From the standpoint of MPLT, this is an investment, not a loan. Our portfolio is fully invested," he said, adding that MPLT supports the concept of the bill.

The House passed HB 17-78, HD1 shortly after Inos-as acting governor on Friday-met with lawmakers.

Inos asked both MPLT and the Commonwealth Development Authority to provide US$4 million each to the central government to help pay for government employees’ salaries and pay the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

MPLT agreed to extend a loan but asked that it be done through legislation.

Yumul’s bill amends Public Law 16-7, the same law that extended a US$3.4 million loan to the CUC in 2008 to put a stop to the rolling blackouts.

The bill earmarks future MPLT general fund distributions amounting to US$4 million to include the anticipated constitutionally mandated distributions for future fiscal years until the US$4 million debt plus accrued interest is paid in full.

The government had insufficient funds to pay most government wages on June 18. CDA remitted US$1.9 million to the central government on Monday, allowing for the paychecks to be released that same day.

For future payrolls, the government is looking at other reprogrammed or identified funds, including those from MPLT, CDA and Department of Public Lands, which it also tapped for CUC utility payments.

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