“THAT’S what the [American Rescue Plan Act] funds are for: to spend the money the right way and make sure that projects, infrastructure, and priorities are also met,” Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said on Friday in response to criticism from U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan about the CNMI’s ARPA expenditure plan.
The CNMI received $481.8 million in ARPA funds with $141.3 million to be spent in fiscal year 2021 and $340.5 million in fiscal year 2022.
Torres called the delegate’s comments “unfortunate,” adding that he cannot understand why Kilili criticized him for hiring 200 people on Saipan, 50 on Rota, and 50 on Tinian.
The governor said the CNMI government is actually hiring more people thanks also to the additional funds from other federal programs.
He added that what Kilili is basically saying is that hiring 200 people on Saipan and 100 on Tinian and Rota is not the right approach.
If the delegate has issues with the CNMI’s spending plan for the ARPA funds, he should include it in the legislation that the U.S. Congress passed, Torres said.
He said under the federal law passed by the U.S. Congress, the CNMI administration was given the authority to spend the ARPA funds.
The administration, he added, will spend the funds in compliance with the law and in a way that will help revive the CNMI economy.
The governor's ARPA fund expenditure plan includes a total of $780,140 for an “equitable adjustment” of the cabinet members’ pay in fiscal year 2022.
Kilili also criticized the governor's use of ARPA monies for the travel bubble program.
But according to the governor, “You don’t just wake up one day and promote the CNMI and expect that we’re going to get 300,000 tourists coming in. You just don’t.”
Through the travel bubble program with South Korea, he said the CNMI is seeing more tourists now.
The Marianas Visitors Authority anticipates more than 600 tourists to arrive from South Korea this month.
In just the first week of September, MVA said it saw more than 600 bookings, far more than what was initially targeted.
“I believe in our decision to spend ARPA funds the way we’re spending it, which is the right way,” the governor reiterated.