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Flashback — Jan. 2006-Jan. 2008

January 16, 2006

CUC’s water main breaks down

The Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s water main supplying most parts of Garapan—including the tourist and commercial district—ruptured early yesterday morning, prompting the utility firm to temporarily shut down water supply to thousands of users. CUC water division trade specialist Mariano Iglecias said the 16-inch water pipe sustained damage as water pressure varies daily. “There are signs of insufficient cushioning when it was constructed,” Iglecias said. CUC spokesperson Pamela Mathis explained that the main was constructed in the 1990s. He said the PVC pipe needs cushioning to prevent damage as it moves due to water pressure. Soil and rock movement may also cause damage to the pipe.

MVA: Nearly 30K less tourists in 2005

The CNMI played host to 506,846 visitors in 2005—nearly 30,000 tourists less than the 2004 total—even as the pullout of Japan Airlines’ regular flights to Saipan only began during the last quarter last year. Enhancing visitor arrivals to the CNMI poses a big challenge to the new administration of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who declared in his recent inaugural speech his target of attracting one million visitors yearly, which is almost double the 2005 tourist arrival turnout. The 2005 total reflects a 5.42-percent drop from the number of tourists who came to the islands in 2004—535,873—even as JAL’s pullout took effect only in the latter part of the year, particularly on Oct. 4, 2005. Tourism industry players fear that the airline’s pullout would translate to a loss of over 100,000 tourists yearly.

January 16, 2007

NMI delegation off to DC

A CNMI delegation headed by Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez left yesterday for Washington D.C., to raise the Commonwealth’s concerns on the proposed federal wage hike. Aside from Villagomez, other members of the group are said to be Senate President Joseph Mendiola, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Juan T. Guerrero, and Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Islands chairwoman Lynn Knight. The team is expected to hold meetings with congressional staffers on the minimum wage issue. Chamber acting president Alex Sablan said the team needs to get to Washington D.C. “by Tuesday.” “They have a closed-door meeting on Tuesday,” said Sablan, without elaborating.

DOI team completes ‘24 questions’ report

The Department of the Interior’s team tasked to respond to the U.S. Senate’s 24 questions on the CNMI’s economic and immigration situation has completed its report. “It was completed [this afternoon],” said DOI regional economist Wali M. Osman in an interview Wednesday last week. Osman worked on the assignment for about two weeks in the CNMI. He flew back to Washington D.C. over the weekend. He said his report will be submitted to the Office of Insular Affairs for a review process. The final report should reach OIA deputy assistant secretary David B. Cohen on Jan. 16.

January 16, 2008

Misused $6.4M uncollected in ’07

The Attorney General’s Office and other government agencies did nothing in the first half of 2007 to recover some $6.4 million in misused funds. The Office of the Public Auditor reported that it received no updates from the AGO and other responsible agencies on the status of the recovery of the funds. As of June 30, 2007, audit recommendations in 13 audit reports were referred to the AGO for legal action to recover improperly expended funds. According to these audit reports, some $2.7 million is potentially recoverable. This includes about $1.3 million in overpayments of professional services contracts, and $1.1 million from the Tinian gaming commission.

Governor reports balanced budget

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has reported a balanced budget for the second year in a row. The governor told the Legislature that the CNMI government achieved a small surplus of $14,000 in fiscal year 2007, which ended on Sept. 30, 2007. Based on unaudited information, revenue collections and other financing sources totaled $163.13 million. This is $155,000 less than projected and $33.5 million less than the previous year. Recorded expenditures and obligations totaled $163.116 million.

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