The CNMI Department of Commerce immediately went to work and coordinated with the Consumer Protection Division of the CNMI Office of the Attorney soon after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed the order declaring a price freeze on basic commodities in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu in October last year.
That was when Torres declared a state of significant emergency and a state of major disaster declaration for the CNMI. Both declarations were also approved by the White House
Acting Commerce secretary Mark O. Rabauliman said all information on price gouging or establishments and other businesses not following the price freeze were given to the OAG’s Consumer Protection Division, which is headed by Michele Harris.
The price freeze is still in effect for the entire CNMI after Torres extended the declaration of major disaster and state of significant emergency for the islands for another 30 days.
“There were [violations] just a couple of weeks after Yutu. We received some calls of potential violations [and] gave it to the OAG’s Consumer Protection Division,” Rabauliman said. “Technically, it is under the jurisdiction of the OAG. As far as Commerce’s role, we helped out in disseminating information to all the businesses as we deal with them directly.”
Rabauliman said they compile all reports they receive before forwarding them to the CPD. “In terms of any violation that was reported in, we take the messages and information in, then put together a packet and forwarded it to the AG’s office for their review.
“And their agency [CPD], would handle it the way they see fit. Our role here is really advocating equity…all throughout, maintaining the message that has been put up by the Office of the Governor with regards to the price freeze.”
A sudden increase in rental fees was the most common complaint that the OAG received after Yutu, as residents who lost their homes scrambled to find housing and other means of accommodations.
Demand for apartment and other types of shelter increased after Yutu as many residential units, most especially in the southern portion of the island and on Tinian, were destroyed by one of the most powerful weather disturbances to hit the CNMI.
The CPD is advising the public to report possible price gouging and other violations of the Price Freeze Act. For more information, contact Harris at (670) 237-7500.