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Editorials 2019-December-27

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From words to deeds

AS we have pointed out in the past, as the exclusive casino license holder on Saipan, Imperial Pacific International will and should be under constant scrutiny, and that has been the case even before it opened its “temporary” casino at DFS over four years ago.

It is abundantly clear, as we have also noted earlier, that IPI has badly overestimated and/or underestimated a lot of factors that pertain to its casino investment on island. Not surprisingly, IPI is not only being taken to task by the authorities, it has also been hauled into court by some of its vendors and former employees, including those hired by IPI’s first contractors. More ominously, IPI is under federal investigation.

At a recent casino commission meeting, some of IPI’s unpaid vendors asked the commissioners to “do something” about the investor’s “unsuitable method of operation.” A lawmaker, for her part, “reminded” the commission that it can revoke IPI’s license.

To further clarify these controversies, let’s now try to thresh things out.

• What do IPI’s complaining vendors want? To get paid, of course. IPI, however, is disputing some of its outstanding bills. Which means that the court system may end up deciding these legal matters. Which is likely to take time.

• What do lawmakers want? They have two “demands,” if you will. First, IPI must pay what lawmakers say is its unpaid tax and community chest obligations. But again, based on previous statements from IPI, the casino commission and the administration, IPI is disputing the amount of what it owes the CNMI government. We were told that negotiations are “ongoing.” So what’s the status of those talks? This brings us to the lawmakers’ second “demand”: that the casino commission penalize IPI and/or revoke its license or at least its exclusivity.

Now here are other questions that everyone involved may want to consider:

Who should IPI pay first — its vendors or the CNMI government? And who among the vendors should get paid first? How can the commission or the government compel IPI to pay as soon as possible if these payment disputes will soon reach or have already reached the court system? If, as everyone says, IPI is struggling and barely surviving, how can it pay what it supposedly owes everyone? Who gets what when?

Rep. Tina Sablan, in her statement during the recent casino commission meeting, indicated that its members could be “inherently compromised.” To prove that they are not, she said they should revoke IPI’s license. Fair enough.

But here’s another idea: if lawmakers believe that IPI is a “bad actor,” and that the CNMI is in a “toxic relationship” with it, then why won’t they introduce legislation to revoke IPI’s license? Why wait for the casino commission to do what some lawmakers believe it is incapable of doing? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: introduce the anti-IPI/casino gaming bill and/or an initiative petition. Lawmakers who maintain that voters should have had a say in legalizing casino gaming and/or poker arcades should now introduce the bill/initiative petition that will put that question on the ballot. This will allow members of the public to discuss and or debate related issues such as the government’s obligation to its retirees, employees, critical public agencies, programs, vendors, etc.

Seize the day, as they say. The Legislature has the authority. Its members should use it.

Long-term indeed

CHCC’s CEO is right. The $120 million appropriated by the federal government for CNMI Medicaid is “a temporary fix, and a long-term solution is still needed.”

As The Wall Street Journal’s Joseph C. Sternberg pointed out recently, government-funded healthcare can “strangle…politics like a python suffocating a pig.” But this is not to say that government should “get out” of healthcare. That ship has sailed a long time ago.

In any case, the first thing to remember, to quote Sternberg again, is that in government-funded healthcare no amount of money is ever enough. Public health, including and especially the medical referral program, is an ongoing, never ending cost. Then and now, the government’s public health agency, whatever its name is, will need more funding than what politicians can provide for the simple reason that there are other equally pressing government obligations. Moreover, as with many other crucial public-policy decisions, the allotment of funds for healthcare will ultimately depend on what is politically possible.Another key factor, then and now, is the availability of funds and the state of the economy, federal and local, that generate such funds.

So what are CHCC’s suggestions? What about the rest of the CNMI leadership — the administration, the Legislature, the congressional delegate? What are their recommendations?

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