In his first State of the Commonwealth Address almost a year ago today on June 30, 2014, Gov. Eloy S. Inos reported an economy that is “recovering” and while so many challenges are ahead, he said the “future is providing us with many more opportunities to continue growing.” Annual business activity could reach $1.3 billion, he said, and thankfully, the tourism-based economy continues to recover but the challenges are far from over.
While it’s true that every administration attempts it and that every new administration is expected to do better than the previous ones (especially if the last one was a subject of an impeachment process over corruption, neglect of duty and felony), the CNMI has yet to fully rebuild people’s trust in government and has yet to really stabilize the local utilities and healthcare systems.
If it is any consolation, residents at least have not experienced another round of rolling blackouts and the only hospital has not shut down despite going from a $40 million annual budget to over $1 million in government subsidy. And no work hour cuts anymore.
Maintaining a safe island environment for residents and tourists (and where no one disappears without a trace), and balancing U.S. military interests with preserving the islands’ pristine environment and bringing in more foreign investments (most notable of which are casino investments from China) remain a challenge.
But then again, despite some economic gains and supposedly new administration, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. has yet to see a real adequate debt payment from the government so that CUC can continue to keep the lights on and keep the water running in schools, hospitals and other public facilities.
The Inos administration’s 2014 revival of a CUC board of directors has proven to cause more problems than solving them, including new sanction threats from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over CUC’s failure to hire qualified persons to fill top posts.
The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. still needs more central government funding, and unnecessary wrangling among its leaders has yet to stop. Some lawmakers recently complained about lack of action on certain bills, but not on more sensible ones such as those prioritizing funds for CHC and CUC.
And what former governor Benigno R. Fitial couldn’t do for years to legalize casino gaming on Saipan in the name of economic development (or so he said), among other things, Inos was able to do it barely a year after his unprecedented rise to power.
But the manner in which the Saipan Casino Law was passed and enacted remains questionable and went against promises of an open, transparent, and accountable government. (After all, it was already too late for Fitial, right before and during the impeachment process against him, to tie in the casino legalization as a new source of revenue to make sure retirees continue to get their full pension—after cutting them).
But in his first SOCA and even during his January 2015 inauguration speech, Inos made no mention of the word “casino” which was the largest revenue-generating measure that became law under his administration.
It was also a subject of litigation and other objections, and Inos at the time had to say this in his SOCA, “With all due respect to the lawyers in attendance—We cannot sue our way to prosperity. We must be proactive and seek out potential new investors.”
Thankfully, there are individuals and agencies that remain vigilant and continue to hold their leaders—past and present—accountable for their actions.
A year ago, Inos was also “proud to share with each and every one of you that the State of our Commonwealth is once again experiencing true collaboration between the Executive and Legislative branches as well as our U.S. congressional delegate. This partnership, and with the people standing by our side, has resulted in the Commonwealth experiencing exponential growth.”
It’s time to revisit that “true collaboration” part because while there were forward strides, there are still a lot of things that need to get done for that real “exponential growth” to happen besides a government operating budget going from a low of $102 million to $145 million.
After all, Inos himself said that when he became governor, “people were questioning government integrity, doubting its honesty, and criticizing its lack of transparency. And so in order for my administration to move forward, it was important that our people could trust in their governor and their government.”
The CNMI has at least seen some of its top officials convicted of crimes and wrongdoings while in power including a former governor (whose sentencing is coming up), a former lieutenant governor, a former attorney general, former senators, and former House of Representatives members.
Some admitted to violating laws, while others ought to be replaced, voted out of office, investigated and/or prosecuted as well.