Island economies are fragile and literally at the mercy of shifts in what's now a globalized economy. This is further exacerbated by the natural challenge of island nations and territories being resource-poor. Thus, most island communities adhere to tradition or venture into contemporary economic opportunities like the fickle tourism industry.
For instance, the CNMI's only major economic foundation is tourism. It is a fickle industry that spirals upwards or downwards depending upon the severity in the growth rate and natural or man-made disasters in such markets as Japan, China, South Korea, and others.
It makes it obligatory for leadership to watch nearby markets daily to see how these markets perform and what it means to our fragile economy if, i.e., Japan is dealt another “big one” (tsunami and earthquake) in the Tokyo area. Japan now looks to transferring government functions to cities like Osaka and Nagoya. The point is: People don't leave home when a serious disaster hits. It means guarding family savings until the disaster has calmed down and reconstruction work is completed as communities work on recovery.
If you will, seismic experts in universities and agencies in Japan are carefully monitoring the movement of tectonic plates near Tokyo. A crushing of crusts in the deep could mean serious destruction to Tokyo. Hope it doesn't happen lest tourism here would see another heavy blow when our friends from the Land of the Rising Sun opt to stay closer to home. This is the fragility of island economies that obviates the question: Are there alternatives to mitigating the fickleness of tourism?
Appalling how our saviors on the hill have saddled private industries with more punitive taxes, convinced it's the holy grail of revenue generation. But isn't it true that more taxes in a very bad business climate exact economic contraction rather than economic growth? Haven't you read how large businesses have quickly moved out of states with punitive taxes and stifling regulations into states that have far less of it? This must be the evil genius designed by a bunch of ignoramuses.
With the elected elite (and notice I didn't use the word “leadership” for it would be a misfeasance), we need someone who could guide the CNMI in rebuilding stronger paths to prosperity like we used to know. Fiscal trauma only breeds uncertainty as private industries juggle the question whether it should invest more of its lifetime savings or wait for the fatal storms political indecisions and obsolescence to pass.
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Cost of living on Tinian/Rota
The cost of living on Tinian and Rota is such that I cringe to even imagine what our brothers and sisters have to endure in these bad economic times, paying quintuple (five times as much) what consumers on Saipan fork out for gasoline and basic necessities.
What's the root cause of this issue? Is it the cost of shipping, quintuple taxation when goods touch down on the two islands in addition to middlemen fees? What's the mark-up like or is this end of the equation fair? It boggles the mind and it's time that the delegations of the two senatorial districts buckle down to eliminating fees and taxes that have pushed the cost of basic necessities beyond the reach of most consumers. How long would you snooze on the job?
Goods are assessed fees when it touches down in Guam. It is further assessed gross receipts tax and other fees when it lands on Saipan. The parade of charges is parroted when goods destined for the two islands are shipped off. Where in this lengthy and fatally costly parade hang the fees and taxes that need to be reduced or repealed altogether? Which among middlemen fees could be eliminated forthwith? We need to buckle down, address, and resolve this “hardship cost” for the sake of families to the south.
What would trigger the cost of gasoline to hit nearly $6 per gallon on Rota? Does it cost that much to ship fuel from Guam that lies about three to four hours away? Why would a case of chicken fryers cost about $50 per case? Is the shipping rate (air or surface) still horrendously high even with the cost of fuel going down at the global market? Somehow this looks more like a scam than anything else. I mean how much is charged shipping items from Saipan (already assessed landing fees, wharfage fees and gross receipts tax) aside from landing fees in Guam? Is the prohibitive mark-up the crux of the cost of goods skyrocketing?
The two delegations must probe this issue forthwith. If anything, this must be addressed collectively with the central government because the people on these two islands can't be taken as being “stupid” for living way from the business center. Hello? Anybody home? Could you roll up your sleeves and begin the task at hand? Si Yuus Maase`!
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'I don't know Maria,' again?
The CNMI has seen its economic pillars and foundation reduced to rubble by the imposition of stifling federal and local laws. Add to the pile of mess is leadership's inability to jointly preside over the affairs of the CNMI with some sense of purpose and moral humility. No wonder the troubling and deepening economic meltdown. Admirable, though, the lame agility of alleged leadership struggling to decipher what happened while nursing disorientation.
Frankly, I prefer overlooking the lack of leadership at home, wary that there's hardly anything that government could do effectively. It can't even figure out how to waste taxpayers' money properly or refine its corrupt ways even after a lengthy on-the-job-training. Nauseating, though, that when they allegedly found a little money it became an instant celebration of mediocrity.
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The administration encourages people to get off the welfare rolls, saying they should be out working. I'm in agreement with both aspects of its assertion except there's a serious missing link: Has it been successful in wealth and jobs creation so that NAP recipients could find meaningful employment to avoid the humiliation of lining up for coupons at month's end? Or is the woefully suspect assertion just another lame election year drivel? You want people to work but have you created jobs over the last six years? If so, can someone quantify the job numbers and placement?
John DelRosario Jr. is a former publisher of the Saipan Tribune and a former secretary of the Department of Public Lands.