I donut niid edukashun; I hab kommon cents


Part of a series.

We take a short-term view of the economy and money—we lease our land. Off-islanders take a longer view—they lease our land but create cash-generating business machines. We thought we did well selling the casino license and leasing land to BSI. But who’s generating $1.4 billion plus per quarter?

I’m not saying that I think anyone or any group here could put together $7.1 billion or have the skillset to create a casino industry on the scale that Mark Brown has in mind. But could we invest instead of watching outsiders invest? We could have. (1) A number of us made millions back in the day of the garment factories. But it disappeared and only partially finished buildings remain. (2) Just a few years ago, there was a retirement distribution…but we bought cars and went to Guam on shopping sprees instead of re-investing that money. (3) We have large families. People from India who’ve settled in the U.S. now own many motels and convenience stores. How? They have extended families too. And those families pool their money for one part of the family to purchase a business—a “cash-generating machine.” (4) We enticed BSI here but did we negotiate, as part of the arrangement, that they would source 60 percent of their building materials and furnishings locally? There’s a billion lost. Did we negotiate their use of locally-owned (51 percent minimum, living locally) businesses for their ancillary needs (restaurants, tour operators, and on and on and on)? Over the life of their license, this would amount to billions directed into the local economy but more importantly, lest we forget, into the pockets of locals. Too late on Saipan. Maybe it’s not too late for Tinian and Rota.

Do you want to own the printing press that’s printing money or get a job operating it? The off-island owner will take our trees to make the paper, use our minerals to produce the ink, then because we won’t work, bring in outsiders to provide the sweat-equity to earn the money. Is this what beetle nut, or marijuana, or ice does to us? Or is it “cultural”?

We think that leasing our land is a good thing. But we’re so greedy, we have a hard time setting a price and signing a contract. But what is a real shame is that we don’t seem to realize that there are other ways to make money with our land, public and private. How? (5) Create joint ventures. This would be where the local landowner contributes his/her land in exchange for (partial) ownership of the business. Instead of a one-time payment (or, in some cases, BSI makes payments on land leases), you get a part of the cash-creating machine, maybe a job (if you’re qualified) and the family benefits as well. Advice given—we don’t listen or act—it’s over.

Well, we’re full circle. Education. We need it and we need more of it.  If you’re going to build an economy in the CNMI, would you use the “common sense” guys/gals or would you want those who are wide and deep in wisdom? They’re not the same!

This is not the stuff of walking the island and picking a new village site close to fishing, hunting, and “farming.” Many of our so-called farmers really don’t want to farm. That’s why outsiders can come and see so many agricultural opportunities. And we want to expand northward to do what? Create investment opportunities for outsiders or decimate the natural resources there as we have done here? So where’s the common sense in all this?

Arnold J. Mesa
Chinatown, Saipan

Arnold J. Mesa

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