CNMI Lawmakers Urge Utility To Compel Government To Pay Bills

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CUC depends upon collecting overdue bills to stay in business

By Junhan B. Todiño

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 5, 2014) – Representatives Larry Deleon Guerrero and Roman Benavente yesterday said the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. should take action to compel the CNMI government to pay its unpaid utility bills.

In an interview, Deleon Guerrero said CUC will not necessarily disconnect the government’s power and water services, but "they can apply pressure on the government to start paying."

The Legislature can appropriate funds to pay CUC.

Rep. Roman Benavente looks on as Rep. Larry Deleon Guerrero signs an attendance sheet during the public comment portion at the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission meeting.

Based on records, the central government’s unpaid utility bills reached $1,241,137.86 as of Dec. 2013, including prejudgment interest.

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. owes CUC $9,690,875.67 while the Public School System owes $5,936,931.55. Both depend on the central government for funding.

Deleon Guerrero, who chairs the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications, attended yesterday’s Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission meeting with Rep. Roman Benavente.

Deleon Guerrero reminded the commission of Superior Court Judge Joseph N. Camacho’s recent ruling allowing CUC to sue the government.

Deleon Guerrero said the commission must also look into the legal implications of litigation since CUC has been placed by the governor under a state of emergency.

Benavente said CUC must be able to collect unpaid utility bills from its clients, whether they be government agencies, businesses or private individuals.

"I don’t care who is in arrears. There’s no such thing as a free lunch — somebody has to pay for that lunch they are eating," he said.

He said if the government owes money it should find ways to generate more funds so it can pay its obligations.

CUC has to stay afloat and continue its operations, he added.

At the same time, Benevente urged CUC to be "more candid and transparent" when it comes to pressing issues.

In the past, he said when there was no CPUC or CUC board "everything was hidden and information was never disseminated to the people."

CUC legal counsel James Sirok said they are waiting for a judgment in the case they filed against the CNMI central government, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the Public School System concerning $16 million in unpaid utility bills.

"We have already sued the central government, PSS and CHC, but none of the cases has moved toward final judgment," he added.

Nevertheless, he said the central government and PSS are continuing to pay CUC.

The healthcare corporation was able to obtain a temporary restraining order to prevent CUC from disconnecting its power.

But Sirok said CHC must remain current in paying its bills so CUC will not have to disconnect its power supply.

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