Teno: ‘It’s unfair’ • OIA attaches strings to reimbursement money for Tinian operations, says governor
Calling the deal “unfair,” Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio said he would favor deferring release of close to $1 million in federal funds to reimburse the island government the costs incurred from hosting more than 600 illegal Chinese immigrants on Tinian until contentious issues are resolved.
He said Washington has imposed conditions that would forbid the Commonwealth from spending the money the way it wants, as he noted that there were no restrictions when local resources were used by federal authorities for the Tinian operations.
A memorandum of agreement drawn up by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service also called the reimbursement a grant, and this means that CNMI will be required to comply with federal procurement regulations prior to use of the funding, according to the governor.
“We would like to see those conditions be not part of the MOA because the money we spent came from our general funds which we were supposed to use for the operations of our government,” Tenorio said in an interview. “We feel that… there shouldn’t be any restrictions for me to use the money because that is our money.”
Island officials have raised their concerns to the Department of the Interior regarding the wordings of the accord that was handed to them during their recent trip to Washington D.C.
Once it is signed, it would facilitate payment of some $950,000 to the CNMI in expenditures from April to September on the undocumented aliens who were sent to Tinian after the Coast Guard interdicted their boats while attempting to enter Guam.
Delay: But because these concerns entail another round of review by the White House, reimbursement of the money may be delayed further, according to Office of Insular Affairs Director Ferdinand Aranza.
He claimed the only condition set forth in the deal for the release of the money was to require the CNMI to send a letter to the federal government at the end of the year acknowledging receipt of the payment.
Tenorio, however, said he would seek changes to the MOA to address these concerns “to the mutual satisfaction” of both parties despite potential delay.
“In as much as we would like to see the money be reimbursed immediately, we also want to emphasize that by signing that MOA now might also prohibit me using the money,” he explained. “That will be more problems for me.”
Guam last week received over $4.4 million from INS to pay for services to thousands of Chinese boat people who fled to the island early this year under an agreement that Aranza pointed out was similar to that of the CNMI.
“I don’t know what the Guam agreement is. We have not been provided a copy, but the MOA we received is completely unfair for us because there are certain provisions that we have to meet for us to spend the money,” said Tenorio.
Expenditures covered by the reimbursement included overtime pay for local personnel stationed on Tinian to assist federal immigration agents and officials, meal provision for the Chinese as well as rental of buses used to transport them to the airport and other charges.
Since these services tapped local funds set aside for other purposes, such as the alien deportation and relief program which was temporarily halted, the federal government had to assure the CNMI that it would settle its accounts.
The Commonwealth, which controls its own immigration, had agreed to assist the White House in accommodating the wave of boat people attempting to enter Guam in an effort to deal with the worsening immigration crisis on the neighboring island.