New House speaker wants more diversified local economy
House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) said all elected leaders in the CNMI must work together in order to further strengthen the people’s resolve as the islands continue to recover from the devastating effects brought by Super Typhoon Yutu.
The Precinct 3 lawmaker said that Yutu has brought to light that the local economy, which is dependent on tourism, is not diverse enough. “We need to give them [the people] the tools they need to succeed. We need to create policies that will help everyone, not just a select few.”
“Most importantly, we need to listen. We may or may not be praised for the tough decisions that we will have to make. There is only one guarantee and that is we will face criticism as we cannot make everyone happy.”
Attao added that the CNMI is in an area of the world where typhoons have been a part of the people’s daily lives with the Commonwealth being hit by powerful storms in the past three years—Soudelor in 2015 and late last year Mangkhut on Rota and Yutu on Saipan and Tinian.
“We must improve our infrastructure… I would like to thank the crews from Palau, Colorado, [Federated States of Micronesia], our brothers and sisters from Guam, and of course our men and women at [the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.],” said Attao.
“For all they have done to get the power and water back into our homes. I’d also like to thank all the local agencies for working with the U.S. military to distribute thousands of gallons of drinkable water from the reverse osmosis systems they set up in the weeks after Yutu.”
The third term lawmaker said that the CNMI must improve its infrastructure. “I realize that a substantially better power and water system will be costly. Many will ask if we can afford to make our infrastructure stronger. I say that if we’re honest, we cannot afford to not improve it.”
“One way or another, I would like to address our level of preparedness for future storms, during the relative calmness of today. With that said, as we consider the 2019 fiscal year budget, we must all [study] the effects of Yutu and the storms to come.”
He added that this is where the CNMI needs to diversify its economy with the Commonwealth heavily reliant on the tourism industry. “The job that the Marianas Visitors Authority does to promote the CNMI on a shoestring budget is outstanding. We can all agree that we need to do more by looking into other sustainable industries and revenue sources.”
“Our CNMI budget and our debt service, how we finance our retiree pensions and supplement our [Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., Public School System, Northern Marianas College] budgets, all of it are all far too reliant on tourism and its related industries. Let’s develop new industries. Let’s explore viable sources of new revenues.”
Attao also said that developing a local workforce would decrease the CNMI’s reliance on foreign labor. “Let’s explore more reasonable and practical ways to diversify our economy. It will not be an easy road, but as the late President George H.W. Bush once said, ‘No problem of human making is too great to overcome by human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit.’”
“Importantly, no problem is too great for the untiring hope for our Commonwealth. Let’s continue to dream of what our future can and should be by continuing to support the work that is being done by [the Northern Marianas Trades Institute], Latte Academy, and all the folks that are working to train our people. We also need to help [the Northern Marianas College] on track.”