CNMI Senator Working To Create Planning Department

admin's picture

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

Necessary development coordination lacking: Palacios

By Dennis B. Chan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 18, 2016) – Senate Vice President Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) disclosed on Wednesday he is working on a framework, along with other members of the Senate, to create a "planning" department, or office, within the government.

Palacios disclosed this after hearings with department heads on how to address infrastructure impacts from ongoing development concluded Wednesday.

"I’ve been in the framework of putting together an office of planning or a department of planning, which we used to have in this government but it got somehow taken out," said Palacios in an interview in his office.

"We are glad that the [Coastal Resources Management] major siting process has a semblance of consolidating all the different agencies together," he said. "This is the only process that we have…Otherwise, this one is doing this, and this one is doing that, and it’s contradicting."

During a hearing with local utility on Tuesday, senators learned off apparent miscommunication within the agency. "Somebody signed off on a permit and the sewer guy is saying, ‘We didn’t know about this development,’" Palacios said. "That’s telling in and of itself. We need to have a lot more coordination" and "some sort of planning function within our government."

Palacios also said the Senate is looking at also calling in the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, the Historic Preservation Office, and other offices that are part of the regulatory agency scheme. He added he would be brainstorming with other senators on future hearings, and added he would task their counsel and legal aides for reports "consolidating all the [information] we got" from the hearings and possibly "send it to the Executive Branch."

‘Not development: regression’

Palacios, who authored a amendment to local law last year to allow Best Sunshine International, Ltd. to set up its temporary casino within 200 feet of playgrounds, parks, churches, and other establishments so that the casino project could move forward in the T Galleria, questions how development will impact the "quality of life."

In an interview Monday, before the hearings started, Palacios said that the infrastructure being built "caters to a lot of the transient population."

"And we don’t have the infrastructure or the space to accompany everybody, inclusive of the community, that is here. And it starts deteriorating the quality of life."

"That’s not development," he added. "That’s regression."

Palacios said at some point in time the CNMI needs to "step back" and look at development in cumulative benefits and impacts and ask if the CNMI improved its quality of life, "or did it cost us?"

Palacios used the Philippines as an example, saying that at one time the country had many, many visitors and traffic that created stress for the local population, which sacrificed the quality of life for commerce.

"Development is good. Make no mistake about it. But we want to make sure we do it right. We want to make sure we pay attention to all the other peripheral issues not just the glitter."

The extinct local garment industry, for one, started at five garment factories on island, blossoming into 10, then 20, then well over 30 factories. "When we had it at five to 10, it was manageable," Palacios said. "Then all of the system started breaking down. Water was an issue. We had 30,000 to 40,000 non-transient, but year-round population of workers staying on Saipan. That became an issue…While we generate $60 million to $70 million in potential revenues from that industry, we ask ourselves, was the quality of life much better? No. When it was time for them to pull out, they just pulled out," Palacios added.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment