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Sunday, April 20, 2014

‘Prosecuting defaulted govt scholars is long overdue’

The decision to run after non-responsive government scholars is long overdue, according to Lt. Governor Jude Hofschneider, who praised yesterday the move recently taken by the CNMI Scholarship Office and its advisory board.

Without citing numbers, Hofschneider described as “substantial” the amount owed the government by the defaulted scholars who failed to return to the CNMI to fulfill the conditions set in the agreement they signed with the scholarship agency.

“When the recipients signed off on the agreement, they understood what they are obligated to do. Part of this agreement is they are required to come back and serve the community. If they are challenged by not landing a decent job here, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have to pay anymore. I think it [prosecuting this matter] should have been initiated way back,” he said after yesterday’s press conference at the Northern Marianas College.

Scholarship administrator Rose Pangelinan earlier said that these defaulted scholars owe the government a significant amount. Over the years, these scholars failed to respond to the government’s pleas to come and work with the scholarship agency for assistance and guidance. This resulted in the decision to refer their cases to the Office of the Attorney General for legal proceedings.

Saipan Tribune learned that all agreements made between CNMI Scholarship Office and recipients are legally binding. If a recipient is in default of the conditions of their memorandum of agreement, he or she is required to repay the total amount they received.

For example, of the more than 100 scholars of the CNMI Scholarship Office who potentially graduated last school year, only a few have actually notified the government about the completion of their studies, violating the agreement they signed with the CNMI Scholarship Office. Collection from fiscal year 2013 alone was also low at only $55,367.

Hofschneider said the Inos administration will continue to work with the Scholarship Office to find ways on how the government can assist the recipients, even if they are in default. However, he pointed out that the government needs to also act on how it could recover the “loss” incurred by the program.

He admitted that the government continues to find it hard to entice the islands’ scholars to return and work for the CNMI. He said the CNMI’s lack of available jobs is what hinders these scholars from returning home.

CNMI scholars, upon receiving their checks, sign a memorandum of agreement that requires the scholar to notify the CNMI Scholarship Office within 90 days once they graduate or fail to enroll.

Saipan Tribune learned that if they fail to do this, these scholars will be in default and all the funds they received from the scholarship program will become a loan that they must pay back.

Beneficiaries are also required to return to the CNMI and work here after college graduation. It was also learned that if a defaulted scholar has no job or can’t find one to repay the “loan,” a deferment can be worked out with the Scholarship Office if they wish to.

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