“Would you like to watch Shaggy’s concert?” I asked a friend a few days ago.
“Who’s Shaggy?” came the reply.
Two days later, I had to sing—more like hum and grunt—portions of Boombastic, It Wasn’t Me, Angel, Hey Sexy Lady, and You Girl, hoping my journalist friend would connect the popular tunes to the Jamaican-American reggae fusion singer who served in the Gulf War as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps before kicking off his music career in the early ’90s.
“Ah, that’s him.” Finally. But still.
Thankfully, another journalist friend from Saipan made the Labor Day weekend trip to also watch the Saturday concert at Guam Greyhound Park in Tamuning, among other things.
All proceeds of the Shaggy concert—which drew a large and enthusiastic crowd that didn’t mind the rain toward the end of the show—will go to relief and recovery efforts in the typhoon-ravaged Saipan.
Soudelor left a trail of destruction on Saipan after a direct hit on Aug. 2 and 3, demolishing houses, blowing off roofs and walls, knocking down trees and power poles, flipping vehicles over, halting airport and seaport operations, shutting down businesses, and leaving thousands without power and water.
One of the most successful reggae crossover stars, Shaggy was initially scheduled to also perform on Saipan. This was later scrapped because of Soudelor’s devastation. The Guam performance, which also featured Petey Pablo, Chris Boomer, and The Native, later became a benefit concert for Saipan. Tickets were sold at $25 and $30 each.
Saipan-based Steve Brownstein Entertainment, which brought Grammy Award-winning reggae artist Shaggy to Guam, will donate all the concert proceeds to benefit Saipan through the Lady Diann Torres Foundation, which has recently become a part of Saipan’s typhoon relief and recovery efforts.
Torres and her husband, Lt. Gov. Ralph Torres, Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), Rep. Lee “Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan), along with members of the Marianas Young Professionals and others from the CNMI, personally came to Guam for the Shaggy benefit concert, to drum up support for ongoing recovery efforts on Saipan, and extend the CNMI’s gratefulness to Guam for coming to Saipan’s aid in the wake of Soudelor.
The CNMI team also joined Guam’s Labor Day picnic yesterday at the Gov. Joseph Flores Beach Park or Ypao Beach.
On concert night itself, the lieutenant governor, his wife and others from the CNMI were introduced on stage even as program hosts told the receptive crowd about the reason for the benefit concert. A CNMI flag was hoisted on the right side of the stage. There were chants of “Biba Saipan.”
Steve Brownstein Entertainment and the Lady Diann Torres Foundation are among the still growing list of grassroots teams, businesses, civic groups, non-profit organizations and public agencies near and far that are helping to rebuild Saipan.
Over a month after Soudelor unleashed its fury on Saipan, volunteers “have begun to shift from emergency response into more long-term, formalized, and coordinated efforts,” as Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) put it.
After going through the devastations caused by a telecommunications outage in July that disconnected Saipan from the rest of the world, and a direct hit from Typhoon Soudelor in August, the last thing that Saipan needs is a man-made disaster in the form of a partial government shutdown.
That is, if and when the Senate and House of Representatives fail to pass a $145.82 million budget agreeable to both houses before the Oct. 1 start of fiscal year 2016.
A bicameral committee tasked to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bill is now working on a compromise budget bill. Among other things, the House deems unconstitutional the Senate’s reallocation of earmarks.
A closer look at the budget proposals shows there’s a lot more than the Senate’s decision to move around $5.6 million so it can claim giving a 5-percent increase in law enforcement officers’ salaries—regardless of their qualifications—and giving the governor and mayors 100 percent reprogramming authority.
Senators led by President Victor Hocog (R-Rota) increased both the Senate and House leadership accounts by 67 percent each, or from $179,387 in the House version to $300,000 in the Senate version.
The nine-member Senate also increased Rota’s budget by over $500,000—from $5.967 million under the House version to $6.514 million. Tinian’s budget also went up by over $600,000—from the House version of $5.967 million to the Senate’s $6.605 million.
Senators cut to $600 the House’s $60,600 budget for the CNMI’s Breadfruit Program.
For Rota alone, senators want to hire a conservation officer for $20,000, an administrative assistant for $20,000, and an assistant cook for the Aging program for $14,000.
They also want to buy four vehicles for Rota costing $20,000 each, for Customs, Sports and Recreation, Commerce and Public Works. A fifth vehicle for Agriculture costs $26,000.
For Tinian, the senators’ wish list includes hiring the following: two fire and EMS fire cadet 1 for $16,652, two administrative officers for $18,590 each, a police sergeant for $23,706, a police lieutenant for $26,406, a police captain for $27,438, a cook 1 for the Aging Program for $15,860, two equipment operators for $14,378 each, a trade technician for $14,378, a police officer 1 for $16,652, a librarian aide for $18,000, and a conservation officer for $20,000. They also want $27,000 to buy a DFW-Tinian vehicle.
Senators also want public health coordinators for Rota and Tinian for $45,000 each, but scrapped the $366,000 that the House appropriated for Workers Compensation claims.
The hiring and salary raises do not stop there. Senators increased the salaries of Rota and Tinian’s resident department heads and resident deputy commissioners to $45,000, along with that of special assistant for management and budget/CIP administrator Vicky Villagomez to “not less than $62,000.”
They also want compensation for Rota and Tinian members of the Response Activity Coordinators Team that are responding to the emergency operation plan.
Senators also want the hiring of more than two dozen additional personnel on Saipan including a data entry clerk, an economic development officer, a population socio statistics specialist III, systems administrator and fulltime counselor at DPS. The salaries range from $13,000 to $65,000 a year.
While making public school principals the expenditure authority for the operations of their school, senators specify how the Public School System should spend $120,000 in its operational funds.
This includes raising the salaries of PSS associate commissioners to $70,000-$80,000. One of those covered is Senate Education Committee chair Justo Quitugua’s wife, whose current annual pay is $65,000.
Senators also want at least a $60,000 annual salary for PSS employees, except for principals, with a doctorate degree.
Also on senators’ wish list for PSS are $60,000 each for the Carolinian and Chamorro Bilingual Cultural Programs; establish an Office of Administrative Services on Rota and Tinian with personnel; $364,551 for textbooks; $60,000 for interisland scholastic sports activities for three islands; and one school bus each for Rota and Tinian.
Senators also want the Office of the Attorney General to set aside at least $50,000 to fund a full-time assistant attorney for DPS.
Whether senators are aware of it or not, Saipan was devastated by a typhoon and the economic impact will be felt also on Rota and Tinian.
Lawmakers also need to balance between starting the budget process all over again to take into account Typhoon Soudelor’s economic impact figures and preventing also a disastrous partial government shutdown if no budget becomes law by Sept. 30. Nevertheless, there is always mechanism in place to prevent government over-expenditures, though not necessarily followed, with or without disasters.