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Economic task force seeks House support

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THE Governor’s Economic Task Force on Monday presented the CNMI Community Focused Recovery Plan to the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism, and sought the panel’s help in drafting a House resolution to support the plan.

The recovery plan was presented by Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. chairman Alex Sablan of Tan Holdings Corp., economic consultant Matt Deleon Guerrero, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna, the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force Chairman Warren Villagomez, Marianas Visitors Authority Deputy Managing Director Judy Torres, and MVA marketing manager Thomas Kim.

The lawmakers who attended the presentation included House Committee on Commerce and Tourism Chairman Joseph Leepan Guerrero, vice chairwoman Janet Maratita, House Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, Reps. Luis John Castro, Joseph Flores, Donald Manglona, Ralph Yumul, Ivan Blanco, Jose Itibus, and Richard Lizama.

House legal counsel John Cool and legislative assistant Cameron Nicholas were also present.

The House Committee on Commerce and Tourism convened on Monday to discuss the CNMI Community Focused Recovery Plan with the Governor’s Economic Task Force. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

Alex Sablan said the recovery plan is a collective effort of business leaders, non-profit organizations, and civic business organizations in the Commonwealth, including the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp., and several other business community members, with the help of CHCC and the Governor’s Covid-19 Task Force.

Sablan said the plan is an offshoot of the CNMI Fiscal Response Summit that was attended by representatives from all three branches of the CNMI government, as well as by members of the private sector.

Matt Deleon Guerrero, for his part, said the economy is stalled domestically and internationally, and there is a serious concern about reopening it. It has to reopen at some point, he added.

The plan is centered on the safety of both residents and tourists, but the tourism industry in the CNMI will be far different from what it was prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said. Serious mitigation will be in effect to ensure the safety of everyone in the Commonwealth.

These mitigation efforts include potentially mandating businesses to require employees to be tested for Covid-19 prior to resuming work, testing individuals flying into the Commonwealth, requiring both employees and consumers to wear masks and practice social distancing, as well as collaborating with the governor’s Covid-19 Task Force to ensure that protocols are being enforced in the business community as well as the community at large.

“In trying to unwind and restart the domestic economy, there are some factors related to the government restrictions and executive orders that can be…worked through in order to help stimulate more confidence in domestic consumers. We think that one of the key factors that is inhibiting a lot of activity is confidence,” Matt Deleon Guerrero said.

According to Alex Sablan, “We cannot get our employees to go to work because they are very fearful of contracting this disease, and that is the mindset issue that we have to deal with.”

From the source-marketing end, MVA marketing manager Thomas Kim said although Saipan places second in the top five travel destinations of Asians, visitors from China, Japan, and Korea are concerned about the mandated quarantine upon arrival in the Commonwealth.

Sablan said they may enlist the help of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which could extend visitor visas to allow for 14 days of quarantine as well as time to visit the island.

The economic task force highlighted the importance of community-based testing, and projected that it will take approximately 60 days for the remaining 95% of the populace who have not been tested to be tested, hence the selection of the July 15 date to reopen the Commonwealth to tourists.

Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero, for his part, said: “The committee stands firm and ready to assist the task force to gradually open the business community here in the CNMI…. We are here to assist as much as possible.”

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