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Monday, April 21, 2014

Fair distribution of land claim payments sought

Upon learning that some landowners were paid anywhere between $100,000 and $4.4 million for the government’s taking of their property for roads, wetlands, and ponding basin while hundreds more have yet to see a penny, some lawmakers are demanding a “fair and proportionate” distribution of land compensation.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) questioned what he described as unfair distribution of funds to compensate landowners, based on a Department of Public Lands list of total claims paid throughout the years totaling almost $28.5 million.

“Where is the fairness in that? How did the government decide which ones are to be paid first and which ones to be paid later? Would somebody’s land taken in 2000 and forward be compensated before those whose lands were taken in the early ’90s? These are the questions that need to be answered,” Tebuteb said.

Rep. John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan) echoed Tebuteb’s sentiments, adding that it is not good for some families to be paid millions while hundreds more are waiting to get paid even a single cent.

“There needs to be proportionate distribution of funds,” he added.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said the Inos administration “would like to ensure that there is a just procedure to govern the disbursement of payment owed to landowners.”

“However, the issue today is really not the order nor the questionable actions of previous administrations; the issue today is the lack of appropriation or source of funding to make whole with landowners still waiting for payment on their claims,” he told Saipan Tribune.

While the task at hand now is looking for ways to generate new revenues and set aside money to pay landowners, the government also needs to ensure that there is fair distribution of funds once those funds are identifies and ready for distribution, said Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), House Ways and Means Committee chairman.

Based on DPL records, the government paid 138 landowners a total of almost $28.5 million. The highest amount paid was $4.4 million, followed by over $2 million and over $1 million.

At least 28 landowners got paid anywhere between $100,000 and $760,000-plus.

The money came from a $40 million bond that was floated supposedly to pay land claims. The remaining $11 million went to the construction of an adult prison in Susupe.

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