The CNMI will no longer be hosting the 2006 Micronesian Games that was scheduled to be held on Saipan this summer.
Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Daisy Villagomez-Bier cited economic factors and a lack of adequate planning as the reasons for Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s ultimate decision to keep the quadrennial games from returning to the CNMI for the first time in more than a decade and a half.
“I know that the CNMI as a community has a very strong desire to host the games. The government acknowledges and shares that desire. We were the host of the first games ever and have not hosted since 1990…and we are hungry to do so again; however, the CNMI government is in a severe financial situation and cannot afford to host the games this year,” she said in a news briefing on Capitol Hill.
While the actual dollar amount has yet to be determined, Villagomez-Bier said that the combination of poor leadership and timing was more than enough to force the administration to deem the hosting implausible.
“The true cost of the games is yet to be quantified as key sub-committee members have not yet submitted budgets despite months of planning. This week, the latest submission I got was early Wednesday morning. Aside from the barracks appropriations, the cost of operating facilities and the cost of man hours must be paid for,” she said.
Villagomez-Bier noted that part of the reason for the retraction was the CNMI government’s recently revised revenue projection from $213 million to $198.5 million for fiscal year 2006.
“We have begun cutting costs and will be forced to make even more difficult considerations shortly. Those considerations also include jobs. We cannot responsibly make financial commitments that, one, we cannot meet, and two, would worsen the CNMI’s financial condition and threaten the livelihood of its people. That is why it is with regret that the CNMI is withdrawing as host; however, we acknowledge the enthusiasm and the support of the community in hosting the games and we look forward to doing so when the CNMI is ready,” she said.
Fitial acknowledged that the economy stands to receive an injection of a potential $2 million from the more than 2,000 visitors expected to descend upon Saipan, but that there were too many difficulties involved in making it happen.
“It’s not a matter of us wanting to give it up. It’s a matter of us not being able to bring it in,” he said.
Saipan Major League Baseball Association president Rose Igitol was a member of the planning committee, and she offered to Villagomez-Bier that it was the chairman’s role to fill the seats of the disinterested committee members in order to maintain momentum.
“At your first meeting, we already brought up those names and asked you to make your appointments to those committees at that meeting in January. These appointments were not made. Yes, they were critical, and with you as chairperson, we relied on you to fill those positions. …I feel that as chairperson, and please forgive me, those positions should have been filled since you had the opportunity to do that. Some of those people who were not showing up are no longer working for the departments that they were selected to be a part of, and I know, I know we can do it,” she said.
Villagomez-Bier replied that she took recommendations from the governor to fill the vacant positions, but said that the timing and the lingering lack of a clear financial picture were the key factors in the decision making process.
“The first estimation given was…not more than $750,000, but that really does not take into consideration the cost of fixing the facilities. At this stage in the planning process, 85 percent of what should have been completed has not yet been completed. Money-wise, when we had the meeting with the Micro Games Committee, even then we weren’t sure. We had to go back to the individual committee members and find out how much it was going to cost,” she said.
Villagomez-Bier also said that the concept of hosting the Games was flawed in its inception with the previous administration.
“The true assessment of how much it was going to cost the CNMI was not done prior to the commitment of wanting to host the Micro Games; we kind of put ourselves in jeopardy. Even with meeting with certain individuals, there was the assumption that it might cost the government less that $150,000, and because it’s not sure, we don’t know if it would be more than what they proposed or less,” she said.
Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association president Michael White voiced his disagreement with Villagomez-Bier, noting that those with previous experience in hosting the Micro Games still believe that Saipan can deliver on its promise to the region.
“Speaking of the timing aspect, Madame Secretary, have you ever run a Games like this? Kurt Barnes has and he thinks that we can get it done,” said White.
While Villagomez-Bier answered that she does not have the experience, she narrated the chain of events that led to the decision to scrap this summer’s hosting.
“I was told that in August 2005 there was a request [to host the games], September was when we agreed to the hosting, and then November was when the committee was made. In the process from November to the time when I took the chair in January and met with the committee, I was informed by the vice-chair that there were certain committee chairpersons that had not been attending the meetings and that no reports were given. Those particular committee members played a critical role in the decision making…and at this time in the game, those individuals’ reports should have been done. There should have been an assessment saying that this is how much it is going to cost, and this is where we’re at in the picture. Because of that, it jeopardized the committee in the planning stage. Unfortunately for us, we are too far into the planning stage that, between now and June 23, it will make it difficult even if we all pool our resources together,” she said.
At one point, Lt. Gov. Tim Villagomez offered a ray of hope when he offered to give the Legislature a chance to appropriate the funds for the Games, but DCCA’s Catherine Perry-Anderson noted that the previous administration had approached the Legislature and that no funding had been appropriated.
While it is already set in stone that the CNMI will not host the Games, what is not yet sure is whether or not it will be able to send its athletes to either of the proposed alternate locations in Guam or Palau.