Each week I sit and consider what I should discuss that may help our community to lift itself out of the morass we have sank into. Let's walk down memory lane together and see if you have similar feelings as I do. The following account is from personal recollection, not a historical tracing of events. So correct me if my recollections are a bit different from yours.
I recall arriving on Saipan in 1984, to a community vibrant with hope for the future. The tourist market was about 150,000 people annually and just starting. The Hyatt Regency, the Saipan Grand Hotel, the Haifadai Hotel and what is now named the Fiesta Resort an Spa Saipan were the only hotels to my recollections. Since then we have had several more hotels added such as the Pacific Island Club, the Aqua Resort Club, the now closed Hotel Nikko, and Marianas Resort and Spa. Oh, yes, I almost forgot the Plumeria Hotel, now a deserted crumbling building. That was about it. Our major tourists were Japanese. Saipan seemed to be on a positive up.
Ever wonder if the following event had not happened what would have been our present state? About the late '80s or early '90s the garment industry popped up and things began to change. Thousands of Chinese workers surged to Saipan with over 30 factories opening up across the island.
About the same time Korean tourists discovered us and as they began to come here and the Japanese began to leave. Somehow we had offended the Japanese. I recall the problem about the Hotel Nikko and its landowners. Japan Airlines simply said goodbye. Our numbers began to drop.
But because of the upsurge of the garment factories, money began to flow like wine. The government became rich and foolish. But like all bubbles the garment industry bubble burst. In a few years the factories began to close and the workers began to leave. Without any thought what this would mean to our economy, the government kept its spending ways, not considering that perhaps it would be prudent to save some money for the future.
Before this happened, the CNMI was mainly a tourist and an agriculture economy, but the agriculture vocation was deserted as more of our people flocked to the garment industry and to employment in the government.
The government, flush with money, continued employing many more employees than it needed. We began to import more and more of our daily necessities. Why not? We had the money. But the administration also neglected to pay into the pension fund while deducting money from employees' salaries. What a crime! But no one complained. The party was in full swing.
When in 2009, the last garment factory closed its doors and money became scarce, the party continued. Pension money did not go into the intended fund, but no one noticed or cared. Tourism at one time hit a high of over 700,000. Sad to say, we did little to make sure that that high number would continue. We just assumed that Saipan was the destination to come to.
The effects of these events made little impression on us. We also failed to be aware of the U.S. Congress slowly questioning our ability to control our own borders. They had received many complaints about labor abuses to which we did little to correct. Yes, we just kept merrily rolling along. Meanwhile our careless inattention to the events happening to us slowly began to show their dire ramifications. Isn't this similar to most major life threatening diseases when left unnoticed? Aren't many of them cured if attended to early in their manifestation stages? But sadly we ignored all the warnings.
Now let's see where we are today. Our tourist market, our only major industry, is floundering at about 300,000 to 350,000 annually. The pension fund is in bankruptcy, government workers are putting in only 32 hours weekly, our utilities company is grasping for funds to pay its fuel bills, and the Commonwealth Health Center is slowly falling into a coma. Meanwhile many of our citizens are deserting the islands, leaving behind their houses with unpaid mortgages. And our legislators and the administration are arguing with each other as never before, busily pointing fingers at each other. Well, what do we do now?
The saddest part of all this is that we have become a divided community. What was once a closely knit and cooperative one is now widely divided. See how the Legislature and the administration disagree daily. So where do we go from here?
There are acres diamonds that we have not cultivated yet. Acres of diamond are in our fallow land, waiting patiently to be cultivated. We must eat. The heavily populated island of Guam must eat. Guam grows very little locally while importing most of their food from offshore. Recall that Guam has over 1 million tourists a year, over 160,000 population, add to that thousands of military troops who have to eat at least three times daily.
Collected from recent USDA statistics, Guam has about 13,376 acres of farmable land, but the CNMI has a total of over 117,760 acres of farmable land. Guam has about 104 farmers, but the CNMI has over 256 farmers. I could continue plying us with more statistics, but the point is that by now we realize the diamonds lying under our feet are in farming! We must cultivate our land and receive its bountiful fruits. Farming is one of the most productive ways to lift ourselves up. Besides feeding ourselves, our next door neighbor-Guam-is waiting for us to supply them. From that harvest will come a harvest of money, labor, and pride.
The other acres of diamonds are lying in the bountiful ocean. It too, like land, can grow the seafood we long for. There is little need to import from other parts of the world. Cultivating the ocean can be in the form of aquaculture such as shrimp or tilapia on shore or in the ocean itself for various other fish.
But wait a minute-that is hard work! We prefer the air-conditioned offices and the free food stamps. Well, okay have it your way. I am merely suggesting that we can help ourselves.
Remember the man standing on the roof of his home while the floodwaters rose steadily. He prayed feverishly for God to save him. When a boat sailed by to rescue him, he waved it away shouting that God was going to save him. A few minutes later a helicopter flew by pleading with the man to be saved by climbing the ladder it had dropped. Again the man waved the helicopter away shouting that God was going to save him. Finally the man drowned. He met God on his way to heaven and asked: “But God I prayed to you to save me.” God looked at him and replied: “I sent you a boat and a helicopter and you waved them both away. Were you expecting Me personally to come and rescue you?” This story suggests that we are on the same roof top waiting for His rescue.
It seems we have become like an overly obese person fallen ill. Though he knows what he has to do to reduce and regain his health, he finds excuse after excuse for not to doing what he knows he has to do to regain his health. So, ladies and gentlemen, where do we go from here?
Okay, if nothing else, print a giant smile on our faces and have a great week.