ANALYSIS Lead federal agency turns Adversary Resorts to bashing and stampeding

Posted on Jan 14 1999

The Northern Marianas and Mother Country are given a mechanism (902 Consultation Talks) to refine its relationship every ten years. It is understood then that given the geographical isolation of these isles from the seat of power that issues would be considered in favor of the governance where government rightfully belongs.

Such view was fully understood and appreciated given the long journey ahead before the NMI can attain appreciable economic self-support in addition to being the center piece of what the US quietly acknowledged as the “American Experiment”.

Through this mechanism, there’s hope that differences on issues are discussed and settled, again, fudging in favor of the NMI in light of the fact that it doesn’t enjoy representation in the US Congress. Such was understood then and highly misunderstood today. The genesis of what has become a sour relationship started when federal representatives came to the consultation table pushing their own agenda in condescending manner as to neglect the rights given the NMI on internal sovereignty. It is an attitude that simply ignores the voice of the governance.

It is basically a problem of a shift in the political mood in Washington. The Republican Administration is usually very sympathetic while Democrats have become a thorn with a different mentality, colonialistic at best, who wish to micro-manage the NMI without deference to an elected republican form of government.

The consultation talk was aborted several years ago. Each side of the table closes their folders piled with fully reviewed issues and headed back home. The mechanism never worked and not when federal representatives become intransigent on what issues ought to be taken up. More often than not, it (federal representatives) want their agenda adopted forgetting that the representatives of the governance are better poised to set what issues are best suited for discussion given that the people they represent would have to live with the consequences of decisions reached in these talks.

In the absence of a voice or representation in the US Congress, we placed our fate on the laps of Interior’s OIA, hoping that given this fundamental setback in non-representation, Interior’s OIA would empathize with the NMI–mindful of our strange form of US Citizenship–when policy questions affecting our welfare emerge for review by the administration or the US Congress. We were hoping too that it (OIA) and other federal agencies would first defer to the Covenant Agreement when considering major policy questions. But each shift in national politics equally sees a shift in how it treats and interprets the basic document that established our relationship.

Historically, OIA was a sympathetic partner especially during the formative years of the NMI’s constitutional government. The well nurtured working rapport was backed by tons of words of encouragement pertaining to economic self-support. Hindsight now tells us that it must have been premised on the need for the NMI to weed itself out of reliance on federal grant funds so it stands on her two feet. After repeated encouragement that eventually turned into an embarrassment, the NMI fended for herself on tourism, garment manufacturing, construction, shipping and other residual economic activities.

The irony in what turned out to be a success story (through the free enterprise system) was the lack of obvious participation of OIA on issues such immigration, labor and minimum wage from the outset. It now wants to lord over a dysfunctional family it helped establish through negligence. The NMI knows that the issues being raised can best be resolved through a partnership where its interests are taken into consideration. But it now sees such interests being sacrificed in favor of the US mainland textile labor unions by politicians whose career have been paid by moneyed labor bosses.

And for all our hopes that OIA would protect and advance the NMI’s interest, current events loudly trumpets that a shift in federal policy to protect what’s ours versus that of the textile labor unions in California (the capital of garment manufacturing) has forced a fundamental query into our minds: Instability in federal policy can leave in permanent ruination all that the NMI has worked for over the last two decades. Is killing the livelihood of the people of these islands living under a fragile economy the way to the so-called “American Dream”? Perhaps, OIA’s helmsman has an answer to back-up the fall-out of his insidious agenda (if it pans out) to return these isles to pre-colonial days of helplessness and joblessness.

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