CNMI House Considering Bond To Pay Land Compensation

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Tony Sablan asks DPL for information on pending, settled claims

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 5, 2014) – Representative Tony P. Sablan yesterday disclosed that many CNMI House members are looking into the possibility of floating another bond to pay for land compensation.

But Sablan, IR-Saipan, said they will also ask the Department of Public Lands (DPL) to provide the Legislature with a copy of the "inventory" of land acquisitions so that lawmakers will how much exactly the government owes land owners whose property was taken for public use.

In a letter, Sablan is asking DPL Secretary Pete A. Tenorio for the number of land claims still pending on Rota, Tinian and Saipan.

Sablan, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, also wants to see how many of the claims have judgments and how many are being settled.

In an interview yesterday, Sablan said they are looking at options so the government can pay land owners who are owed up to $100 million in compensation.

The government is also planning to float a bond to pay the $300 million it owes the Retirement Fund.

"We have to look at regular sources of revenue that we can earmark to make partial payments to landowners. The other possibility is floating another bond to take care of all these things," Sablan said.

The government floated a $40 million bond almost 12 years ago for land compensation but $11 million went to the construction of the federally mandated corrections facility.

Many land owners were not paid and, according to some lawmakers, political connections played a big role in prioritizing payments that were made.

Sablan said his committee is following up on its request to the Attorney General’s Office for an up-to-date list of land compensation judgments.

He said he learned that there are some pending land acquisitions that are still in the negotiation stage.

"We want to get a total picture of land acquisition matters. Not just judgments but also those that are still in negotiations," Sablan said.

He said it is important that lawmakers get a clear picture of how much money is actually involved.

"It is said that it’s already between $80 million and $100 million — well, we need to get an accurate inventory of the land acquisitions. We need to get a total picture of the amount involved before we go to the point of floating a bond again."

Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson earlier informed lawmakers that last year, the CNMI government paid off one of the three bonds floated more than 10 years ago.

The government, she added, will continue to pay two other bonds up to 2030 and 2033.

Sablan said they still need "to work with the Commonwealth Development Authority to see if it is feasible to float a new bond now."

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