Senate committee defers action on MVA bill

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THE Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs met on Tuesday to discuss several measures, including House Bill 21-3, which intends “to enhance Marianas Visitors Authority’s promoting capabilities in attracting tourists to visit the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Authored by Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Tourism, the bill would expand the statutory duties of MVA to promote tourism.

Comments on the bill have been received from the Office of the Mayor of the Municipality of Saipan, MVA, the 17th Tinian Municipal Council, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

Senate legal counsel Jose Bermudes said  the main concern with the original draft of the bill was its language, which would allow MVA to develop, construct, improve, and maintain tourist sites and other facilities that could potentially attract visitors.

 On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs met in the Senate chamber on Capital Hill. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

In his comments, Attorney General Edward Manibusan said  he is concerned because the parks and most of the tourist sites are not under MVA jurisdiction but under the jurisdiction of either the Department of Lands and Natural Resources or the Office of the Saipan Mayor, depending on the exact site.

“What MVA was seeking was to help tourist sites, develop tourist sites, and just be allowed to come up with designs and also fund the projects, rather than maintaining those tourist sites,” Bermudes said, noting that Senate draft 1 removes the language that the AG found problematic.

Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider, for his part, referenced Executive Order 94-3 which, he said, transferred the maintenance section from MVA to the Division of Parks and Recreation.

“To this day, that has been the standard operations of MVA. What this bill is specifically asking is just for [MVA] to do the promotion for them to be able to engage in some sort of development for tourist sites,” he added.

Executive Order 94-3, otherwise known as the Second Reorganization Plan of 1994, was signed by Gov. Froilan C. Tenorio after the Superior Court ruling on Executive Order 94-2 found that autonomous agencies were part of the Executive Branch and as such, were subject to reorganization.

Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar, for his part, said in their last meeting with MVA, the Senate instructed MVA to collaborate with other agencies to resolve jurisdictional matters.

“I know that we received a letter from MVA, but I do not believe that letter was sufficient because we agreed that they were going to collaborate based on what we discussed with them during the meeting here in the chamber. I think it would be very unfair to just act on [this] bill pending an update…from these departments or agencies,” he said.

The senator said MVA is supposed to promote the CNMI overseas, but if it wants to be directly involved with tourist sites, MVA needs to discuss it and come to an agreement with DLNR, the Department of Public Lands, and the Office of the Saipan Mayor.

He added, “Maybe we need to cut [MVA’s] money and not give them any more money than they’re getting…if they believe that they have so much money that they want to engage in these other areas. Use that money to give DLNR the hotel occupancy tax, so that DLNR can use that money, or give that money back to DPL. If MVA is going to be doing these things, then how are we going to have three departments and an agency doing almost the same thing?”

The committee via voice vote voted to defer action on the bill until comments are received from all departments or agencies involved.

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