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Thursday, April 24, 2014

I’ve got to get this off my chest before I explode!

Rik Villegas

The headline above is considered one of the top headlines of all time for getting someone’s attention to read an article. It seems appropriate, considering the several recent events that have grabbed the attention of people living in the CNMI and pushed their patience to the limit. The obvious top headline is the very visible CUC, but they are only representative of the endemic problems that the CNMI faces now and in the future. There are many, many other government entities that have contributed to the cumulative economic and ethical erosion that has created the “perfect storm” that is currently buffeting the citizens around.

Multiple power outages each day are becoming not only common, but also expected from the defunct CUC. However, the real source of the problem is not the dilapidated generators – they are the symptom of the real cause. A lawyer involved in a lawsuit against CUC revealed that financial data was subpoenaed from the organization and they could not readily provide the needed data. We’re talking about accounts receivable, accounts payable, and other financial data that are essential for any organization to effectively manage not only its finances, but to make good decisions.

I was dumbfounded to learn about the financial quagmire that ensnares CUC. If the information is accurate, there should be an independent audit conducted to determine the true financial situation of the institution. How in the world can they justify their rate increases without backing it up with hard financial data?

This sends up multiple red flags that indicate gross negligence, incompetence, or corruption; or a combination of all three. If a few individuals are profiting at the expense and suffering of the masses they should be identified and routed out for the public to take action.

In a situation where the source of the problem is from within CUC, then more money will only provide temporary relief because there would be Band-Aid repairs and replacements, while a lot of the money would be distributed to cronies or wasted on ineffective practices and equipment.

Concerned individuals are mobilizing to assess their rights and expectations of how much public accountability a public utility should be required to share with its utility users—which is practically every person on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. If you’re so frustrated that you feel like you’re going to explode, then pay attention to the media in the next couple of weeks to learn how you can get involved to help make real changes for the better.

On a different subject, but just as disappointing, is the debacle with the “stimulus” checks that were supposed to be sent out to EVERYONE last week. As you know, less than half of the people received their checks, and the other half were just recently told that because of discrepancies, their checks would be held hostage until they cleared the matter with the Division of Revenue and Taxation.

If you are one of the fortunate individuals to receive a full payment of your check, then you probably haven’t experienced the clog at Rev & Tax that only exacerbates the raw nerves of people who anticipated the needed check, but are victims of the latest CNMI scam to hold onto their Federal money for as long as possible.

In our situation, when we did not receive the check on Friday, we tried to give them the benefit of the doubt by thinking they were processing the checks alphabetically, and therefore we would get our check in the next batch. When we receive the letter from Rev & Tax on Tuesday, they claimed to identify a $10.50 discrepancy on our return. We contacted our tax preparer, who examined the documents and told us that the problem was Rev & Tax’s. Rev & Tax had made an error in their review and was holding over $2,000 of federal money for an imagined $10.50 mistake they made.

This brings up several questions: Why did they wait until after stimulus checks were issued to send a letter to individuals? If a “problem” was identified earlier, why couldn’t they have sent a letter to individuals to clear up the matter prior to sending the checks? Can they legally hold federal money hostage to clear up discrepancies on the CNMI tax return?

We could go on and on with numerous other examples of negligence, incompetence, or corruption that plagues the citizens of the CNMI and has contributed to the current quality of life that has sent many packing. It’s time that we expect more transparency and accountability from those that are expected to serve our best interests. If you’re one who feels like you have to get things off your chest before you explode, then pay attention to initiatives and learn how you can get involved to make the CNMI a better place for better times.

(Rik is a business instructor at NMC and Janel is a partner with BizResults, LLC (www.bizresults.org). They can be contacted at biz_results@yahoo.com.)

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