STRAPPED CNMI GOVERNMENT TO ‘GET RID OF BODIES’

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Gov. Fitial cites budget shortfall despite austerity

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb, 1, 2011) – In the Northern Mariana Islands, Governor Benigno R. Fitial said his administration will pursue employee termination because of a budget shortfall that reached US$6 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 alone, despite slight improvements in cash collections in January.

The governor, however, could not say at this time which agencies will be affected by the manpower cuts or when the terminations will begin.

"Right now, we're not out of the woods yet. We're still implementing the cost reduction measures," he said, referring to the 16-hour cut per pay period and unpaid holidays since October 2010 for hundreds of government employees.

Despite the austerity measures, the government still exceeds its quarterly allotment under a US$132 million budget for fiscal year 2011.

"We will continue with the plan to reduce the workforce. We are streamlining obligations, expenditure. The only thing we can do is to manage the expenditure. We cannot manage the resources, because we can't control the resources. Streamlining is reduction in force. We're going to get rid of bodies," he said.

On Friday, however, different departments-mostly under the Executive Branch-asked the Legislature's approval to fill over a hundred vacant full-time employee positions.

Lieutenant Gov. Eloy S. Inos had said once they get the exact amount of collections in January, they will be able to gauge whether to pursue reduction in allotments for the rest of fiscal year 2011.

Fitial said the government has, since last year, reached that point when it has to consider laying off people because "we know we're spending more than what we are generating in terms of revenue."

Press Secretary Angel Demapan separately said yesterday that payroll for government employees in non-critical positions may be issued today.

For at least the ninth time since June 2010, these same employees have been experiencing delayed payrolls because of severe cash shortage.

At least US$4 million is needed to meet government payroll every two weeks. Almost half of this is for so-called critical government employees, including emergency personnel at the Department of Public Safety's Police and Fire Divisions, Department of Public Health, Department of Corrections and the Division of Youth Services' Juvenile Detention Unit.

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