CNMI Government Pension Allocation Short $1.6 To $2.65 Million

admin's picture

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Senator urges prioritizing obligation to retirees over other issues

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermos

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 15, 2015) – The Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation on Monday learned that the government may be short $1.6 million or $2.65 million to pay for the restoration of the 25 percent pension cut this fiscal year.

It was Sen. Sixto Igisomar who raised this concern as he urged his colleagues to defer action on two local spending measures in the amount of $2million for the repair of basketball courts, medical referral stipends and land compensation.

Igisomar said their most immediate concern right now is the pension of government retirees.

He said the Retirement Fund needs $12.65 million to pay for the restoration of the 25 percent cut, but the government has guaranteed $10 million only, and there is also the possibility of additional available funds.

"But if the additional funds cannot be confirmed, then the shortfall will be $2.65 million," Igisomar said in an interview. "For now the only confirmed shortage is about $1.62 million. If [over $6 million] in additional funds is certified then maybe we don’t have a shortfall. But before we appropriate funds for other local programs, let us have certification and accountability in connection with funds needed for the restoration of the retirees’ pension."

The senator said he doesn’t want to scare the retirees but wants to remind his fellow lawmakers to prioritize the retirees.

"I just want them to accommodate the restoration of the 25 percent. Maybe we need to amend the spending bills or send them back to the committee and get from the Department of Finance an accurate and certified availability of funds to take care of retirees first before we continue to appropriate revenue [from the casino] for other priorities. These include medical referrals, the mayor’s operations, the Northern Islands, the Kannat Tabla and other road problems as well as land compensation."

House Floor Leader Ramon Tebuteb then moved for the return of the two spending measures — House Local Bills 19-3 and 19-30 — to committee for further review and consideration based on the concerns expressed by Senator Igisomar.

All 17 members present voted yes to support Tebuteb’s motion.

Delegation Chairman John Paul Sablan then sent the two measures back to the Committee on Ways and Means.

Rep. Blas Jonathan Attao said his House Bill 19-21 could be the solution to the shortfall problem, but added that it continues to gather dust in the Committee on Ways and Means.

House Bill 19-21, which was introduced in February, proposes to dedicate the entire amount of the Saipan casino license fee collection, or $15 million, to the payment of the retirees’ pension restoration.

Attao said currently, only $10 million goes toward the retirees’ pension restoration.

Attao also introduced House Local Bill 19-3 which proposes to appropriate $1 million for several community projects and medical referral stipends.

House Local Bill 19-30 was introduced by Rep Felicidad Ogumoro to appropriate $1 million for land compensation, village and agriculture homesteads for Pagan, the Indigenous Affairs Office, the Carolinian Affairs Office, the Northern Marianas Cultural Center and the Northern Marianas Descent Corporation.

Sen. Justo Quitugua said they should look at Igisomar’s concern seriously and address the problem as it will affect retirees.

Senate Floor Leader Arnold Palacios said the intent of the Saipan casino law is to address the 25 percent restoration of the retirees’ pension so they should adhere to the original intent of the law.

Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero said the Saipan casino law should be amended to change the breakdown of the $15 million annual license fee. He said most of the amount should be appropriated to the retirees of Saipan, with the rest going to Rota and Tinian.

Rep Edwin Propst said the government should also start reducing expenditures and to look for long-term solutions and not just depend on short-term ideas.

Rep. Ralph Yumul asked the delegation chairman to ask the Department of Finance to update them about the audit report on the government’s finances.

"We need to know the status of the audit report so that next year we know what needs to be done and we don’t have to wait for another problem to occur before we address them," he said.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment