Finance officials will have to meet with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation in order to reach a settlement over unpaid utility bills after they found “discrepancies” between what CUC is demanding and what the government actually owes.
Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio has instructed Finance Sec. Lucy DLG. Nielsen to discuss the matter following a “hastily-called” meeting last week on the heels of CUC’s threat to cut off power to several government offices.
Administration officials have discovered the discrepancies between the two records of CUC and Department of Finance that will have to be reviewed, according to the governor’s spokesperson Catherine Anderson.
“The government assumes responsibility for all its debts and will pay all its debts,” she said after Mr. Tenorio instructed her to speak to reporters last Friday.
Ms. Anderson, however, did not provide details of the extent of the “discrepancies.” The finance secretary is expected to set the date of her meeting with utility officials, she said.
During its board meeting Wednesday, CUC pegged the government’s outstanding balance at over $12.2 million, of which $9.9 million are delinquent.
The government-owned utility corporation has moved to step up pressures against the Tenorio administration after earlier attempts to collect fell in deaf ears.
Although it has long been an option, it’s only now that CUC is leaning in favor of power shutoff as its financial shape continues to suffer amid rising fuel prices and dwindling revenues.
The utility disconnection, which will cover non-essential departments and agencies, could take place before the end of October if CUC and DOF fail to strike an agreement over a payment schedule.
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 for the negotiations.
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.