Acting Department of Public Lands secretary Pete Itibus disclosed to Saipan Tribune yesterday that the agency has provided assistance to some of its leasees by reducing their land lease payments due to the economic difficulties they are experiencing.
The decision to reduce some leases was made in a case-by-case basis, Itibus said, provided the clients have convincing evidence to justify their request for assistance.
DPL is tasked to handle land lease payments for all government lands and properties, the earnings of which must be remitted to the Marianas Public Land Trust. MPLT invests these monies to sustain government programs.
Itibus said yesterday that due to the bad economy that continues to impact residents and the business community, DPL does not expect to collect a lot of revenue this year and will not be able to remit to MPLT again.
“We're not collecting as much as we want to because we reduced the land lease payments due to mounting requests for assistance. The approval is on a case-by-case basis and they have to justify that they're not really meeting their obligations,” said Itibus, adding that rental reduction is better than permanent closure or shutdown.
He disclosed that the last time DPL remitted to MPLT was in 2009 when it turned over $2.5 million representing earnings from public land leases.
The non-remittance since 2009, he said, was primarily the result of the “non-surplus” recorded by the agency during those years.
Itibus explained that the NMI Constitution says that DPL has to deduct from its collections and revenues all administrative costs incurred for the agency's operation.
“If we generate $2 million in a given year but if our administrative cost is $3.5 million, how can we make the remittance to MPLT? The law is very clear that any 'surplus' must go to MPLT. .Unfortunately, we have no surplus,” said Itibus.
In several letters to DPL, MPLT has consistently asked the land agency to share its records of transactions, including audits and financial records to be able to determine how much the government agency really earned in the many years it has been operating.
MPLT has accused DPL of hiding documents and earlier hinted at the possibility of bringing the matter to court.
According to Itibus yesterday, DPL is expecting the completion of the agency's audit report for fiscal year 2010 by the end of the month. However, the audits for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 have yet to commence, he added.
Without these audits and other records, Itibus said that DPL can not sit down with MPLT on the issue. He said DPL will wait for the completion of the requested audits before communicating with MPLT again.
Saipan Tribune learned that DPL will soon issue a request for proposal for the financial audit for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. Procurement regulations require that any contract beyond $10,000 has to seek a request for proposal.