CNMI Hospital Pays $7 Million In Overdue Utility Bills

Supplemental appropriation provided to CHCC; $11 million still required to eliminate debts

By Bryan Manabat

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 30, 2016) – Over a week after House Bill 19-212, now Public Law 19-75, was signed by Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres to make supplemental appropriations for the operations and activities of the government, the Department of Finance said it remitted $7 million to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. so it could pay its utility bills.

“This funding will address a long-standing issue of past due utility bills owed by CHCC to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.,” Department of Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson said in a statement Thursday.

“This appropriation was a joint effort of the Torres-Hocog administration, the Legislature, CHCC and CUC and is one of the many steps taken by all parties involved to address long-standing issues and debt that has accumulated from prior administrations,” she added.

Governor Torres said the funding will benefit Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

“As the economy improves from the new investments and from the greater enforcement of our CNMI laws and regulations, we look forward to addressing and resolving even more of the longstanding issues and improving our financial picture for future generations to come,” Torres said.

CHCC CEO Esther Muna expressed her appreciation for the funding and noted CUC’s collaboration and prioritization of hospital services over the years.

“We appreciate the assistance of the Legislature, Governor Torres, and CUC for helping us and prioritizing the hospital. It is absolutely appreciated that the Legislature and Governor Torres have provided funding for this. Every time we reduce our liabilities, we can focus on improving our services at the hospital,” Muna said, adding that they still need to pay $11 million in obligations.

CUC acting executive director Gary Camacho said the funding will help them improve their services and infrastructure.

“Everyone in the community will benefit from this. It is wonderful that this administration is proactive in addressing these arrears and it goes to show how critical these services are to the community. They were true to their word, and we greatly appreciate it. This is truly a testament of everyone understanding that the operation of the hospital and utilities are essential,” he said.

The funding source of P.L. 19-75 is the over $40 million in additional revenue from the Saipan casino.

In a media conference at CHCC on Thursday, Muna presented a check for $7 million to Camacho while other healthcare and CUC officials looked on.

“We also need to make sure that they [CUC] are also operating continuously,” Muna said. “Despite the fact that we are struggling with our utility payments they are always there for us,” she added, referring to CUC.

CUC board chair Adelina Roberto thanked CHCC for the payment.

“It has been a rough road but we got there,” she said. The $7 million covers not only the utility payments of the hospital on Saipan, but the health centers on Tinian and Rota as well, she added.

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