Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Kerry McKinney yesterday said she is hopeful that President Bill Clinton’s special representative to the 902 consultations will keep an open mind and recognize the reforms carried out by the CNMI government to eliminate labor abuses.
Edward B. Cohen, the U.S. President’s representative, will be arriving here on January 18 to discuss transition to federalization of local and minimum wage.
The CNMI government panel, however, wants to tackle a different agenda which include immigration, minimum wage and customs associated with the local garment industry, economic assistance, waiver of matching requirement for Covenant funds, sovereignty over submerged lands, military land use, 200-mile economic zone, and non-voting delegate status in the U.S. Congress.
McKinney said the Chamber maintains that a federal takeover would destroy the island’s economy which has been badly shattered by the ongoing Asian financial crisis.
The planned lawsuit against suppliers, retailers and garment manufacturers to be filed this week and the renewed attacks of the Department of Interior on alleged failure of the CNMI government to curb labor abuses are all part of an orchestrated move to undermine the progress made by the administration in solving the problems.
“I believe we have made positive steps in dealing with the problem for which we have always been criticized. All steps are being taken to address the concerns of the federal government,” she said.
Since the last year, the Department of Labor and Immigration has carried out raids on factories to ensure that they do not employ illegal workers and their facilities meet the OSHA standards. At the same time, garment firms have implemented changes in the work place as well as the living quarters of the workers.
According to McKinney, the Chamber supports the CNMI government’s position to seek a waiver of the matching funds for the Capital Improvement Projects but not to seek more financial assistance to the United States.
“I believe that if we continue to try to be financially independent of the United States, they will not question our ability to self-government,” she said.