22 employees at MVA continue to be furloughed

Govt owes MVA $7.27M in Hotel Occupancy Tax share

With only $2.1 million appropriated to the Marianas Visitors Authority in the fiscal year 2021 budget law—which is 84% less than the amount set in the fiscal year 2020 budget—MVA has made drastic cuts, including the continued furlough of 22 employees on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

In MVA’s first quarter report for fiscal year 2021 dated Feb. 4 and submitted to Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), MVA managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo disclosed that, as of that date, the CNMI government owes MVA $500,900 in its share of the Hotel Occupancy Tax in fiscal year 2019 and $6.77 million in fiscal year 2020, for a total of $7.27 million.

Iakopo said MVA has not received its share in HOT in fiscal year 2020 and that the funding it got from October to November 2020 was just MVA’s share of the HOT in fiscal year 2019.

Iakopo said this year’s budget provides $526,181 for personnel and the remaining $1,671,230 is for all others.

Due to this budget reduction, which began with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MVA board of directors has made drastic cuts to Marianas marketing and promotion, as well as other programs and services, she said.

With the continued furlough of 22 employees, MVA is sustaining its daily operations with 11 managers and one part-time staff, Iakopo said.

She said there was zero funding for MVA representative offices in China and Taiwan in fiscal year 2021. MVA’s China office was closed last June 30, 2020, and MVA’s Taiwan office was temporarily suspended last April 30, 2020.

There was also a 120-day suspension of the MVA representative office in Japan, which took effect from Oct. 1, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2021, Iakopo said.

Among other budget cuts cited in the report are:

– Only $48,000 for the MVA office in Japan, compared to the $2.25 million in fiscal year 2020.

– Only $261,000 for the MVA office in Korea, compared to $2.07 million in fiscal year 2020.

– Decreased financial support to partner government agencies such as the Division of Parks and Recreation on Saipan, which helps maintain tourist sites.

– Discontinued security and maintenance services at six tourist sites: Grotto, Banzai Cliff, Suicide Cliff, Bird Island Lookout, Laulau Beach, and Obyan Beach.

– Reduced trash collection in Garapan from daily to just twice a week and discontinued landscaping and maintenance services in Garapan along Beach Road and Coral Tree Avenue.

– Suspension of the Beautify My Marianas program that offers cash incentives for qualified cleanups by the community.

– Discontinued multi-language safety videos at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport and Managaha Island.

As for its travel bubble program, Iakopo said that MVA has taken the lead in moving forward with further discussions, preparation, and development of the program, with the consent of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.

“We expect that the plan, once finalized, approved and implemented, will provide a blueprint—and even a model—for how tourism should be conducted,” she said.

If successful, Iakopo said, they expect this program to serve as a model for further expansion of the travel bubble in the Marianas in 2021.

She said MVA, together with the Office of the Governor, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, and other public and private partners, continue to work together in making sure that the safety of the community and visitors remain the top priority.

MVA is monitoring the current developments in Korea and Japan.

Iakopo said they continue to work with the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors on the Public Private Partnership program working to build the CNMI as a world-class destination.

She added that they have 36 partners contributing to rejuvenating the “island’s treasures.”

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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