Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio summoned yesterday his finance officials to discuss ways to settle the government debt to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation following threat of power shutoff by next month.
Mike Sablan, the governor’s chief finance advisor, Budget and Management Special Assistant Edward S. Tenorio, and Finance Sec. Lucy DLG Nielsen attended the “hastily-called” meeting which began at 3:00 p.m., according to Public Information Office chief Frank S. Rosario.
As of press time, there is no word yet regarding result of the discussion, but the governor may issue a statement today in response to CUC’s move, he said.
The board of the government-owned utility corporation on Wednesday took steps to increase pressure on the Tenorio administration in a fresh bid to collect payment for over $12.2 million in unpaid billings.
But it is willing to give one last chance through negotiation with the finance department for a payment schedule before disconnecting power to non-essential departments or agencies.
The board’s operations committee headed by Vice Chair Laura I. Manglona is expected to meet with Ms. Nielsen and other finance officials by the second week of October in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement.
The government has been unable to meet its mounting obligation to CUC due to the continuous financial difficulties confronting the CNMI, according to administration officials.
But the utility corporation has been demanding at least payment of half of the outstanding balance in view of dwindling revenues and rising operational costs as a result of several oil price hikes this year.
Ms. Nielsen has offered a $250,000 per quarter payment to CUC, although government billings run up to as much as a million dollar per month.
Among the measures implemented by the administration to reduce utility costs were conservation program as well as legislative proposal switching responsibility of CUC payment to all departments and agencies.
Amid frantic efforts to resolve the problem, two key members of the Legislature expressed support for CUC’s decision to issue an ultimatum over the government debt.
Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez, who chairs the public utilities committee, noted CUC has been tough in implementing its disconnection policy by not giving any leeway to its residential or commercial customers when they are behind their payment.
“Fair is fair,” he told reporters in an interview. “We’ve got people who owe only $50… but they still get disconnected. It’s very embarrassing for them.”
Likewise, he objected to a proposal from Fiscal Affairs Committee chair Sen. Edward U. Maratita to take utilities payment out of FY 2001 budget to reprogram for compensation under the retroactive pay for government employees.
“The governor has set aside budget for power expenditures, the Legislature should not take that money out,” added Mr. Villagomez. The budget amounted to $4 million which have been distributed by the House to each department or agency for its own utilities.
“I hope Senator Maratita can convince CUC not to disconnect [government offices,” he said.
Rep. Rosiky F. Camacho, his counterpart in the lower house, warned the administration that funding for utilities costs is not enough without strict monitoring of energy use in public offices.
“I hope the governor will look at it very closely and monitor the situation because without the funding provided to specific agencies, how can they pay CUC,” he asked.
Mr. Camacho reiterated his earlier call for metering in order for one department to determine power consumption, and thus allow conservation if necessary.