Retirement Fund members who decided to end their defined benefit plan membership should expect the release of their remaining employee contributions in early November, the Inos administration said yesterday.
But the release date could still be delayed depending on the Legislature’s action, especially with the Senate’s passage yesterday afternoon of a “substitute” version of a House joint resolution.
House Joint Resolution 18-10, House Draft 1, Senate Substitute 1 still has to go back to the House for approval before the measure is considered as the Legislature’s formal acknowledgement and approval of the final disbursement of the DB employee contributions.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment yesterday, said if the Legislature approves the settlement agreement on or before Nov. 1, the Fund should begin distributing checks starting the first week of November.
“If the Legislature does not approve the agreement by that time, the NMIRF will be required to withhold disbursements of employee contributions until such time that the Legislature approves the settlement agreement,” he told Saipan Tribune.
At yesterday’s session, Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan) offered a Senate substitute version of the House joint resolution.
Yumul is one of the 16 who opted out of the Fund settlement class.
The Senate-adopted version adds at least seven new paragraphs and revises others.
Some of the added or revised “whereas” and “resolved” clauses voice out senators’ concerns about the final settlement agreement itself that the court approved on Monday.
For example, one of the new “whereas” clauses describes Section 34.0 of the settlement deal as “disturbing and extortive” as it mandates legislative action approving the CNMI’s minimum annual payment obligation under the agreement, “otherwise no further disbursements shall be paid out to those members of the CNMI Fund who timely submitted elections to terminate their membership in the defined benefit plan.”
The Fund itself expects to disburse the remainder of DB contributions—about $42 million—by early November. But again, the timeline could still change, depending on whether the House accepts or rejects the Senate substitute version. If the House rejects the Senate version, they have to come up with a compromise version.
Another new “whereas” clause in the Senate version states partly that the “Waiver and Release of Claims” under Section 12.0 of the settlement deal “is contrary to Public Law 17-82 and that the CNMI Fund has subjectively and selectively applied Public Law 17-82 against the constitutional and statutory rights of those members who elected to terminate their membership and withdraw their contributions.”
Meanwhile, one of the new “be it further resolved” clauses states that the joint resolution as expressed shall not be binding beyond the constitutional term of the 18th CNMI Legislature.
Another new clause says the Legislature preserves its sovereign rights under the Constitution and CNMI and U.S. laws in approving the settlement agreement “in order to challenge the said agreement in a court of law declaring any or parts of the agreement invalid…”
By a unanimous vote, the Senate adopted the substitute resolution at 4:18pm.
The vote came only after senators took turns asking assistant attorneys general Teresita Sablan and Reena Patel—from 2:24pm to 3:49pm—about the settlement agreement.
Demapan, meanwhile, said pursuant to the settlement agreement in the Betty Johnson v. CNMI Government, disbursements of employee contributions under PLs 17-82 and 18-2 can be made after:
(1) the CNMI District Court gives final approval of the settlement agreement;
(2) the Northern Mariana Islands Retirement Fund finishes calculating contributions made in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and;
(3) the CNMI Legislature takes legislative action approving the settlement agreement.
Demapan said the first requirement was satisfied when the District Court gave final approval of the settlement on Sept. 30.
According to trustee ad litem Joseph Razzano, the calculations for employee contributions made in fiscal year 2012 will be completed by Oct. 18 and the calculations for fiscal 2013 will be completed by Nov. 1.
“As for legislative approval, the House adopted a resolution approving the settlement agreement on Sept. 24, 2013. The Senate [on Wednesday] adopted a substitute version that now goes back to the House,” Demapan said.