Responding to Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) press release yesterday, the Department of Public Works said it has no intention of obligating the $5.8 million that Sablan’s statement had said is still with the CNMI government.
In a separate response to Sablan’s March 9, 2018 letter, Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) explained that, after consulting DPW, the $5.8 million that Sablan said the CNMI government is sitting on is an accumulation of “various carryovers or leftover funds from completed highway projects from previous years.”
Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan), who chairs the Senate Public Utilities and Transportation Committee, essentially said the same thing in an interview yesterday. He said the amount is a collection of leftover funds from 2013 onwards.
Palacios said in his letter to Sablan that the DPW Technical Services Division has no intention of obligating the $5.8 million just yet. He said the TSD’s Federal Highway Administration advisor will be on Saipan in April 2018, during which the DPW director will present TSD’s proposal to obligate the $5.8 million.
Palacios added that the TSD director also informed the Senate that the CNMI’s highway four-year plan adopted in August 2017 requires “more than $20 million to complete,” so unobligated federal highway funds would be eliminated.
Igisomar said in an interview yesterday that there may be a “difference in opinion on how to grade performance.”
Sablan had said in his press release that securing additional funding would remain tricky for the CNMI if there are still unobligated funds in the funding pool. In a January 2018 letter with Delegate Amata Aumua C. Radewagen (R-A. Samoa), both requested the U.S. Department of Transportation for additional funding for road improvements. USDOT denied that request early this month, citing millions in untouched funding in each territory.
Funds the CNMI obtains annually—amounting to $3.9 million for road purposes—are always being used immediately, said Igisomar. He added that the activity rate of the CNMI is topnotch in the nation.
Based on a quarterly inactive obligations report from the FHWA, CNMI funding inactivity percentage is one of the best at 0.1 percent. Money is considered inactive if obligations do not have expenditure activity for 12 months or more.
The report states that CNMI has an inactivity percentage of just 0.1 percent while American Samoa is at 22.8 percent, Guam’s at 14.4 percent, and U.S. Virgin Islands at 6.7 percent.
“…The interpretation coming from [Sablan] and the interpretation coming from the [FHWA] seem to believe that we are not necessarily performing,” he said, citing the inactivity percentage comparisons.
“This shows that our drawdown rate [the sum of leftover funding] is actually acceptable and tolerable because we are able to use it for any form of emergency or catastrophe in the CNMI when we run out of funds,” said Igisomar.
Unobligated funds, as explained by DPW, are reverted monies from closed projects that become available for DPW to re-obligate, which is done according to needs or unforeseen costs.
In a speech during the miscellaneous section of yesterday’s Senate session on Capitol Hill, Igisomar said he and Palacios remain thankful to Sablan for pointing this out. By doing so, Sablan may be able to echo concerns regarding the annual allocations of $3.9 million, which is only 20 percent of total allocations to territories.
Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands get 80 percent of the total FHWA funds. This has been in effect since 1992 and, according to Sablan, he and Radewagen have been trying to make the funding fairer since the Obama administration.
Igisomar said he wishes to take this as an opportunity to request for higher allocation to territories.
“This way, the 10 percent of $3.9 million allocated to [the] CNMI…may increase. Currently, all territories share the annual allocation,” he said, adding that he also wishes for incentives and penalties to be implemented for any state complying or deviating from the 2.0 percent goal of the National Inactive Report.
Igisomar further asked for a special fund to provide additional support to speed up Route 33, or Beach Road and Route 36, or the road from Kingfisher to Kalabera.
“There is more to this than meets the eye, and I truly thank [Sablan] for allowing us this opportunity,” said Igisomar.