This is to express my opinion regarding the dilemma facing our CNMI Retirement Fund program. Let me say from the outset that all retirees' accrued benefits cannot be reduced so long as there is a functioning CNMI government or that the people, by constitutional amendment, have not voted to reduce such pension. Since neither of these two criteria have occurred, retirees' pension cannot be stopped, reduced, or otherwise compromised in any manner whatsoever.
There are proposals being discussed now that appear to be in contradiction to our constitutional provision regarding the Retirement Fund program. One such proposal is to transfer the CNMI pension plan to the U.S. Social Security system. Since pension protection is in the CNMI Constitution and people have not voted to allow such transfer, this proposal cannot move forward without the people's approval. Second, the proposed plan to reduce the retirees' pension by certain percentages is an absolute and clear violation of the constitutional provision under Amendment 19, which states that “accrued benefits of this system shall be neither diminished nor impaired.”
Let me review a little history of why the retirement program is now in such a mess. No doubt there were incomprehensible laws passed that affected the orderly process and management of the Retirement Fund program. At present, the CNMI retirement system has three different classes of retirement program: Class I, Class II and the defined contribution class. To further complicate the system, each class has its own benefits formula and contribution formula. Second, the most idiotic law ever passed involves giving a 30-percent bonus pay for people who want to retire. Fortunately, it was stopped after hundreds took advantage of this stupid law. Third, the Legislature keeps changing the rules of pension contribution withdrawal. From not allowing employees to withdraw their contribution if they have worked for 10 years or longer, to now allowing everyone to withdraw their contribution. As of this writing, the “50 percent withdrawal bill” is still on the table for possible override after Governor Fitial vetoed the bill last month. Fourth, the Legislature passed a law in mid-2000 allowing the administration not to remit its retirement for 18 months. This law clearly and blatantly exposed the real sentiments of both the Legislature and the Executive Branch-that they don't gives a damn about protecting our CNMI Retirement Fund program. Fortunately, the Retirement board sued the government and the court agreed that the administration needs to pay its required contribution. However, since the administration is operating on a shoestring budget, it naturally follows that only a token payment can be made. Of course, this slow payment of government contribution started way back in 1999 and got worse as the years went by. Now, everyone is busy trying to find a solution to this problem that they and their predecessors created in the first place. The old adage s now being played in front of our eyes: “You broke it, you fix it.”
Certain remedies are obvious if you elected official have the guts to bite the bullet. As you know, the formulation of our government provides for the power to raise taxes. It has the power to reduce non-essential employees, travel, rentals and other activities. It has the power to reduce expenditure by eliminating or combining departments or agencies that are not constitutionally mandated. It has the power to do whatever it takes to find additional revenue (like cutting tax rebate, etc.) to give to the Fund what it owes. The bottom line is that no matter how you look at it, the Retirement Fund's survival takes precedence in terms of budget funding over any other department or agency of the government that is not constitutionally created or providing greatly needed public services.
It is really shameful, immoral and regrettable that the very government that is supposed to protect the livelihood of people is doing the opposite by giving us nothing but hopelessness. No government should put its people in such a situation.
In closing, the destiny of the CNMI Retirement Fund and its future are in your hands. Seize the opportunity to provide leadership so we can all look forward to a better tomorrow. Failure to do so will create unprecedented misery and suffering to thousands of our people, including me.
Justin S. Manglona