Friday’s meeting of athletes and interested parties regarding the holding of the Micronesian Games on Saipan with Gov. Benigno Fitial demonstrated the gift of the democratic process. Executive officers at the highest levels are expected to articulate policies and make all-encompassing decisions on the basis of convictions, on the one hand, and statistical probabilities, on the other. Once such decisions are in place, appropriate applications are worked out, often requiring readjustment of implementation plans, or revision of the policy itself.
Governor Fitial’s office seemingly noted the statistical improbability of supporting the holding of the Games, not given solid figures to work with, and apparently in the dark on what exactly is involved. The government not only cannot promise what it had not got, but more so if that which is asking for the promise had not laid out what precisely is being required.
We will dismiss offhand the suggestion that the decision to scrap the Games was due to the fact that the decision to the holding of the same was that of the previous administration, and this new dispensation finds not a single strand of continuity between then and now. The obvious pettiness, if not the impracticality, of such a stance, not only in regards to the Games but with all other previous governmental policies and decisions, is obvious. We trust that the childish insecurity of such a suggestion remains grist for the rumor mill and not an emerging modus operandi of the present administration. Or, worse, that it becomes a convenient administrative practice of “we won’t, therefore, we can’t.”
It appears that Governor Fitial has enough flexibility to reconsider an ostensibly unpopular decision. Herein lies the strength of the democratic process. The broad principles of the consent and the dissent of the governed come into play. Popularity rooted in profound conviction rather than shallow faddishness does make a difference. It is thus proper that the Governor toss the ball back to the athletes and their supporting organizations to design an efficiently workable and effective plan, designating exactly where government support is needed, and what real monetary figures are required. A decision can then be made within sensible budgetary projections rather than on the highly charged, concerted but hopelessly unwarranted, communal groping in the dark.
The role of the private sector has now come to be magnified as a result. Activities like the Micronesian Games cannot be a sole purview of the public sector without significant engagement of the private sector. This has been the ideological mantra of those now in public administrative offices—that the creative energy and productive vitality of the private sector fuels the local economy.
Of the seven years I have been a CNMI resident, an unhealthy and unhelpful dichotomy between the private and private sectors, a “We vs. Them” mindset, has in too many occasions been expressed, from both directions, attaining the status of an operating principle. Such adversarial dualism does not serve the interest of any party. Besides, it is not congruent to factual reality.
In the CNMI, the private sector’s existence, whether it is the garment or tourism industries and their commercial spin-offs and ancillary dependents, is contingent on government support, direct and indirect subsidies, legal accommodations and tax breaks, and actual performance contracts. Conversely, public coffers come from revenues generated by the business sector.
Present-day reality requires that small economic units operate within the forces of globalized economics and localized politics. In the triad of economic commonality of resources, production and distribution, our local economy is based solely on the natural resource of real estate. We have either leased it to the federal government, or rented it to industries whose material and technological inputs, production systems and forces, and distribution means and mechanisms, are outsourced from elsewhere. We are, in the economic equation, nothing but landlords, with benefits accruing only to those of NMI descent, and more narrowly, only to those families and clans who have legal title to land.
On the other hand, in the triad of our political commonality of order, justice and welfare, our local politics is not in sync with the realities of our federal union. We insist on local autonomy without the standards of accountability that is observed elsewhere within the Union. We strive for political exceptions from federal supervision, yet demand federal assistance far in excess of the per capita benefits that other citizens in other States derive. Sadly, an oligarchic few in the public sector seemed to have cornered the service offerings of “welfare.”
Thus, we have a local economic sector often accused of exploiting cheap imported labor by keeping low wages. It is charged as being environmentally irresponsible by circumventing standards. It is portrayed as greedy on short-term benefits at the expense of long-term costs.
If profits from the local economy continues to be derived from the backbone of exploited labor rather than on the competitiveness of products and services in the global market, then those profits can be sustained in the long run only as we continue to further abuse bonded servitude. Our national experience with slavery and all legalized forms of contracted servility should have taught us that exploiting cheap labor lead to long-term consequences, ultimately eroding the confidence of and the concomitant pride on the communal soul.
Striving to keep the Micronesian Games in the CNMI is a spirit struggle. It strikes at the core of our battered communal spirit, our shattered social resolve, suffering from the continuing rhetoric of political divisiveness and discord. Nor is it aided by avarice in the local economy where the impulse to get-rich-quick is observed, most notably among those who take advantage of an expedient personal or kinship connection. The spirit does not gain luster from business concerns determined to squeeze the last drop of blood from sunset industries in their waning moments. Some have left gargantuan liabilities in the hands of the public sector, burdening ancillary securities, bonds, insurance and assurance agencies, and challenging the effectiveness of the newly formed civil societies to respond to emergency situations. There is nothing more insidious and fatally infectious than the despair of the economist’s projection, and the desperate paltriness of the politician’s despondent soul!
Reclaiming the spirit edge, proponents of the Micro Games in the CNMI holler loudly: “Yes, we can!” Time to roll up our sleeves and start hacking on the calculator. A plan is needed by Friday. Those who see the need, may now perform the necessary deed!
(Strictly a personal view. Vergara writes a weekly column for the Saipan Tribune.)