Good job

MPLT is opposed to a Senate legislative initiative that would allow politicians in the executive and legislative branches to exert more control over the public land trust and its board members. We agree with the trustees. Based on its annual independent audit reports, there are no serious concerns about MPLT. (“The results of our tests,” the latest independent audit report stated, “disclosed no instances of noncompliance or other matters that are required to be reported under Government Auditing Standards.”) It is MPLT, actually, that has a complaint, and it is about the amount of public land revenues that DPL is mandated to remit to MPLT. The trustees say DPL still owes MPLT $5.6 million. DPL disagrees.  Their dispute may have to be resolved by the courts.

What is undisputable, however, is that MPLT continues to provide financial benefits to the CNMI government not only in terms of interest earnings, but through badly needed loans, specifically to critical government agencies such as CUC, PSS, CHCC and the central government itself.  MPLT earned or is earning interest from these loans, almost all of which have been paid already.  The $15 million borrowed by the central government from MPLT following Yutu’s onslaught is paid by the future interest earnings that MPLT is supposed to remit to the CNMI government. Those earnings — plus interest — will now remain with MPLT which can invest the funds for the benefit of the local people.

Well done MPLT.

Of all things

A LAWMAKER wants to know whatever happened to the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission which has been inactive since 2017.  CPUC, among other things, had to consider and then rule on rate hike petitions filed by CUC while lawmakers yelled from the sidelines. (Voters were — still are — against rate hikes.)

Is there a truly pressing need right now for CPUC? We’re aware that the governor has tried to fill its five seats, but the appointees must meet certain stringent criteria and — perhaps the toughest hurdle — they must be willing to serve on the commission. Not many takers, from what we’ve heard.

Lawmakers, to be sure, can amend the law to expand the pool of possible appointees. But again it begs the question. Why do you want to have a regulatory commission that cannot make objective but unpopular decisions because politicians can and will overrule them anyway?

For how long? 

BASED on the Finance secretary’s latest report to the House speaker, the CNMI government’s financial crisis could have been so much worse without federal assistance, specifically the PUA/FPUC funds.

Collections from the wage and salary tax, the corporate income tax, the BGRT and the excise tax are down. This is not surprising because the islands’ one and only industry — tourism — has been in a coma for over a year now.

Mercifully, the taxes received from PUA and the FPUC funds that were provided to eligible recipients kept the CNMI government afloat.

Finance also noted that in the second quarter of the current fiscal year, the government’s major expenditure items included the retirees’ 25% benefits, the government employees’ Group Health and Life Insurance, and the Department of Public Safety’s Covid-19 emergency response.

The Finance secretary says due to the still raging pandemic, a return to a “pre-Covid 19 levels of economy activity” is unlikely to happen soon. Government employees may be “rescued” by the ARPA funds for the next year or so, but what about the mostly tourism-based private sector — you know, the one that pays local taxes?

Cue cricket sound effects?

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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