The House Committee on Natural Resources has pushed out a bill to abolish the Department of Public Lands and establish a Marianas Lands Corp. that would be governed by a board of trustees empowered with managing and controlling the public lands in the Northern Marianas.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Edwin Aldan (Ind-Tinian), recommended the passage of House Bill 19-82, with amendments, in a standing committee report on Aug. 12.
The amendment deletes an earlier provision that essentially gave the governor the power to appoint the five-member board with advice and consent of the Senate.
The original provision allowed for one member to be from Rota, another from Tinian, and three from Saipan.
The bill now provides a board made up of one resident from the First Senatorial District, or Rota, appointed by the Rota mayor, one resident, from the Second Senatorial District, or Tinian, appointed by the Tinian mayor, one member from the Third Senatorial District, or Saipan and the Northern Islands, appointed by the Saipan mayor, and another member from the Third Senatorial District appointed by the Northern Islands mayor, and “one resident of the Commonwealth at large” to be selected by the governor with advice and consent of the Senate.
In their report, the committee cites the law, or Public Law 15-2, that abolished the Marianas Public Lands Authority to create the Department of Public Lands, transferring the power to manage and administer CNMI public land to the Executive Branch.
The committee noted that the public law established an advisory board comprised of five members from each senatorial district and the CNMI at large by the mayors and governor.
However, the committee believes DPL has been operating and making independent decisions on matters that are directly related to public land management without the presence, input, and advice of the public land advisory board.
“[DPL] has failed to practice ‘due diligence and strict standard of fiduciary care’ in carrying out the mandates of P.L. 15-2,” the committee states, citing the public law.
“Since it was established” the advisory board “has not been organized,” the committee went on to state. “Absence the participation of the Public Lands Advisory Board, the Department of Public Lands has failed to comply with the mandate of Section 2 of P.L. No. 15-2, which requires and holds the secretary to ‘strict standard of fiduciary care.’”
Citing these alleged “inconsistencies” in the implementation and enforcement of the public law and the interest of protecting public lands, which belong to people of Northern Marianas Descent, the committee said they agree with the bill, which was authored by Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan).
The report also summarizes public hearings held on the bill on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
It found overall consensus of testimony on Rota to be in support of the bill, overall consensus from testimony on Saipan as “overwhelmingly against,” and stated that a the third hearing on Tinian gathered a majority of individuals in support of the bill.