1-month CUC bill deferred

CUC board OKs getting $2.3M from restricted account to give temporary financial relief

Here’s a piece of good news for residential customers of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

To provide temporary financial relief during these difficult times, CUC will be deferring one month’s bill for a period of six months.

“We will not be disconnecting this month,” CUC executive director Gary P. Camacho said in an interview yesterday.

This does not mean that charges will be waived; it only means that one month’s billing payment will be deferred for up to six months. Those who can afford to continue paying their bills have the option either to pay now or defer payment.

Camacho said they will be putting out an advisory explaining the details of this program.

“For the people that have already paid this month, they may not pay next month. So it will be applicable for this month and next month. For now, it’s one month per customer or per account,” Camacho said.

This developed as the CUC board of directors approved on a 4-1 vote the management’s request to allow it to tap $2.3 million in a restricted account—that was originally intended to buy a power engine—to provide temporary financial relief to CUC residential customers.

CUC will use the $2.3 million to maintain operations during the deferral period of six months.

In introducing the motion, board vice chair Weston Deleon Guerrero noted that CUC’s monthly collections normally funds CUC operations. However, due to the circumstances caused by COVID-19 situation in the CNMI, the management’s action is reasonable and necessary for CUC to maintain operations and provide assistance to its residential customers during this period, Deleon Guerrero said.

Board chair Miranda V. Manglona, Matthew Holley, and Jovita Paulino agreed with Deleon Guerrero and voted “yes.” Only Commonwealth Development Authority board chair Ignacio Perez voted against it, saying, among other things, that he needs to see a second opinion from the Office of the Public Auditor and other documents to state that this is the right way to “unrestrict” the $2.3 million.

The board also unanimously approved Deleon Guerrero’s motion to approve a temporary waiver for penalties, late fees, and disconnection period within the deferral periods.

Deleon Guerrero asked the CUC management to make available financial documents showing what the impact the deferral program will have on the residential side, and what funds are needed for the commercial businesses to allow them a 15-day deferment during this COVID-19 situation.

Camacho said they would provide such documentation.

Camacho said he can already tell from his understanding that it’s about $2 million additional for the commercial accounts at 15 days.

The board meeting yesterday lasted over four hours, during which Paulino questioned Perez’s “no” vote. “I mean, you already heard from the legal counsel [Jose Mafnas Jr.] and the legal counsel works not only for CUC, but he’s with the Office of the Attorney General,” Paulino said, adding that they also heard from CUC’s chief financial officer, who is qualified and has the experience and knowledge, as well as from the CUC management.

“What…second opinion is he asking for?” Paulino asked, adding that not too many people have the luxury of paying their bills on time during this difficult period.

Paulino said she does not want to prolong this deferral issue because this will benefit those who are on austerity and for some who are even not working. “What about the wellbeing of our people?” she asked.

For his part, Holley said that if Perez is only concerned about the documents, he’s ready to vote on the matter.

In an interview, Camacho said he met with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last week and that the governor asked if CUC can find some means to assist people, particularly the residential customers of the CNMI, during this challenging time. “And I couldn’t agree with him more. These are very difficult times,” Camacho said.

He said CUC does not have the ability to waive the charges so the most that they can do is to defer the payment. He said he is glad that the board supported the management’s request.

“We’ll be informing the community that we will not be disconnecting and any payment they can use, any dollar amounts that they have now, they can use [for other expenses]. And then we’ll be able to provide up to six months for people to pay this month’s billing,” he said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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