During the 80’s and 90’s, we invited investors in tourism and in the garment industry to the CNMI with open arms and bushels of promises. Believing our words, they flocked here bringing in capital and for us a booming economy. The American flag flew loftily over our islands giving everyone a sense of security and strength.
Gradually we began to change the rules. As soon as the new guests opened their businesses, we began a metamorphosis. We developed a language of doublespeak. Government practiced cronyism. Laws were passed favoring certain individuals and companies at the expense of the general community. We became envious of their success.
Land owners began to raise their lease rental prices. We demanded advance rental payment in full for our fiftyfive year leases. Labor problems emerged but were blinked at. Government revenues were at an all time peak. We were on a roll. Who cared? These were prosperous times.
Little did we realize that the seeds for our eventual present state of economic lethargy were being planted in those heydays. If the times had been read correctly, the future would have been fairly well predicated. Rarely does a manmade catastrophe happen without forewarning signs.
As labor problems increasingly became more conspicuous, we dragged our feet in correcting them. They continued multiplying until the U. S. Government reared its head and began an intrusion into our local affairs.
To this day we are still floating in a plethora of confusing and contradictory labor and immigration regulations with little relief in sight. As a result the U. S. is hell-bent on taking immigration and labor out of our hands. Investors need a stable labor force and were led to believe that one existed in the CNMI. It doesn’t.
Recall how a few years ago certain attorneys began a flurry of lawsuits under the guise of infringement of Article 12 in our Constitution to reclaim land purchased by hotels and individuals . It reached a peak of hysteria until some of the hotels seriously began to consider closing up shop and returning home with their tails wagging between their legs. Thank goodness more level-headed thought prevailed. But the damage was already done.
Having worked in Japan for sixteen years and having studied Japanese history, I know that the humiliation suffered by these hotel investors and other tourist related investors has not been forgotten even to today. As a result of that bizarre episode. no hotel or major activity has been built in the CNMI for over five years. All plans for new development have been discarded. We n~ only shamed our present investors in public but we tried to change the rules after the fact. Consequently, we scared away other potential investors also. This was disastrous and stupid.
For a time the garment industry was allowed to mushroom, opening more and more factories which demanded the importation of more and more foreign workers. As the United States manufacturers began to feel the impact of garment imports from Saipan, the industry came under scrutiny
Instead of standing by and helping the industry, we continue to harass them through devious means until now we barely tolerate them. Even today we are still trying to bleed them. As a result we have alienated them as we have the tourist investors. The industry has only a few years left before it departs for good. What then?
We are still blaming external forces around us insisting it is those forces causing our economic disaster. To repeat Pogo’s remark ” We have met the enemy and he is us!” When will we wake up and acknowledge that we might be real the enemy?