At least five major events could make or break the CNMI in 2014, starting with whether the Commonwealth will be allowed to keep its over 10,000 legal foreign workers beyond Dec. 31, 2014, at a time when the tourism-based economy is surging after years of lackluster performance.
This is coupled with the issue of whether or not the CNMI could also hold on to its long-term foreign investors with E2-C permits beyond 2014.
While Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has reason to believe that U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s anticipated decision this month would be to extend the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program, employers and employees are still wary without the actual decision.
The results of the November 2014 general elections would be a political game changer, especially because Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ seat is at stake and CNMI voters will elect for the first time their attorney general.
Inos is the first in CNMI history to become governor by rule of succession after former governor Benigno R. Fitial resigned days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate. Fitial was impeached by the House on 18 charges of corruption, neglect of duty and felony.
“I believe that my administration has done tremendously since February, when I came in and succeeded former governor Benigno Fitial,” Inos told Saipan Tribune.
To date, Inos is the only one to announce his plan to run as governor in November under the reorganized Republican Party. His running mate is Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan).
Former speaker Heinz S. Hofschneider has started knocking on peoples’ doors for support and has been seeking a running mate but has yet to announce his intention to run as governor.
Third, 2014 will be the first year the CNMI government is required to remit to the Retirement Fund settlement fund $25 million related to retiree Betty Johnson’s lawsuit.
The fiscal year 2014 budget already includes $20 million in remittance to the Fund, so the government only needs to look for the additional $5 million. But if the government fails to meet the minimum payment of $25 million on its first year, “then how can it pay $30 million or more a year in the years to come?” goes the question in peoples’ mind.
Fourth, the CNMI’s ability—or inability—to have its voice heard on major military plans in the Commonwealth would make a big difference in its economy and sovereignty. Among other things, the U.S. Department of Defense plans to use Pagan and Tinian for live-fire training, and to use Saipan as location for a divert airfield.
The governor said the military issues are among the “challenges” that the CNMI will continue to face in 2014.
Lastly, if tourism keeps its growth, then the CNMI would surely be on its way to economic recovery. However, should there be events beyond the CNMI’s control that impacts tourist arrivals, then that could surely shake the islands to the core once again. But as Inos said last week, “We have to be optimistic.”