CNMI Public Service Delivery ‘Worse’ In 2012

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Legislative staff contend healthcare ‘most important issue’

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 31, 2012) – Some Northern Marianas lawmakers believe 2012 was "a little better" than previous years, but one legislative staffer says things have gotten worse, referring to the delivery of critical public services.

Tinian legislative delegation assistant Anthony Aguon said problems with respect to healthcare and public safety were what affected people in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands most in 2012.

He said the Commonwealth Health Center’s (CHC) immediate jeopardy status and the numerous burglaries on island have put people’s lives at risks.

Aguon, who is also a member of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board, said the "fight" over quality healthcare continues.

The NMI’s only hospital, he noted, is still in a transition period after being transformed into a public corporation.

"Healthcare is the issue that matters most because it involves people’s lives on Tinian, Saipan and Rota. That is the most important issue. CHC is our only hospital so we have to make sure we give quality healthcare," Aguon said.

The public safety situation is also worsening, he added. The increasing number of crimes on island, he said, does not only affect residents but visitors as well. The lives of tourists are at risk if burglars and those involved in other crimes are not arrested, he said.

"If we don’t have quality healthcare, the tourists are going to be scared to come out here, and if they don’t feel safe because of increasing crimes that affects us twice as much," he said.

"Not just our people are now worried about getting robbed but also the visitors. So I find 2012 hard. It was very difficult for me. It’s just getting worse," he added.

Senate sergeant-at-arms John Santos said the looming death of the NMI Retirement Fund was the issue that affected him most in 2012.

He added that the Fund’s condition is getting worse and has only made a lot of people confused.

When they, the active employees, were allowed to withdraw their contributions, he noted that some got their money back while others could not.

"All I am asking for is my contribution. I am confused because some got theirs, but what about us?" he asked.

Public Law 17-82 supposedly allows active members to get back their contributions, but the Fund has refused to implement it pending "guidance" from the court.

Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez, for his part, said the number of crimes seems to be increasing.

He noted the mysterious disappearance of the Luhk sisters in May 2011, the murder of guest worker Emie Romero in Feb. 2012, as well as increasing incidents of burglary and the recent execution-style murder of a Chinese couple.

But Villagomez said some other things that happened in 2012 "were a little better compared to 2010 and 2011."

Villagomez said the government did not have to shut down over the budget bill, but added that Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s veto of House Bill 17-193, which would have increased penalties on those who commit sex crimes, was very disappointing.

"I really wanted to have it signed into law. It was vetoed and it really hurt me. We worked hard on that," Villagomez said.

For Rep. Stanley T. Torres, 2012 was the year when the NMI started to "slowly recover." He said it was also the year when government employees got their 80 working hours back.

In previous years, he said many big companies left the island, including Japan Air Lines and the garment factories.

"At least in 2012 there was no big company pulling out, so, to me, it was a little better," he added.

Torres said he’s still disappointed over the Senate’s rejection of the Saipan casino proposal, which, he added, "would have benefitted the entire CNMI."

Regarding the impeachment of the governor, Torres described it as "a nonsense issue."

Anti-corruption activist Ed Propst, for his part, said 2012 was a year of "redemption."

"Because the people came through [in the November elections] and are demanding change so we are now aiming at a much better year in 2013," Propst said.

He added there were other encouraging signs in 2012 and one of them was the introduction of the impeachment resolution against the governor.

What got worse in 2012 was corruption, Propst said, referring to the controversial $190 million power purchase agreement that Fitial and then-Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham signed with the shadowy firm Saipan Development LLC.

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