The recent implementation of austerity measures by our government came as a surprise for many people. The budget shortfall was blamed on a few obvious reasons, the biggest being the devastation by Super Typhoon Yutu in August of last year as well as the massive dip in our tourism arrivals.
OK, but we know that in the months that followed Yutu, while our residents did not resort to their usual expenses, they did spend a lot of money for recovery and the millions from FEMA and SBA should have resulted in a bump not a dip in our economy. As for tourism, it has rebounded although not with the same numbers for previous years.
So, the questions are, what exactly led to the austerity measures, what are the potential impacts to the residents and how long will it last? Is our government trying to spend less because it has been projecting a dip in its revenues or did it spend way more than it collected thru its tax system? As for the payouts to some in the upper echelons of government who are management not hourly employees and the controversies surrounding those above the norm pay raises, did they contribute to additional costs which ultimately dried up our government’s coffers? Anybody willing to explain?
By now, we’ve known that no matter what we do, our government’s finances and our economy as a whole will always be a little rocky. We’re straddled with issues and problems, some which we can do something about, others beyond our control.
We cannot do anything about our small island economy except hope for the best and prepare for the worst, year after year. We still have to import most goods and products, a chunk of our workforce consists of people under the CW program, and lacking most natural resources, we produce very little, leaving us doomed as consumers with permanent dependence on factors beyond our control.
These and other issues which until resolved pose an even greater threat to our economic future. These include the exclusion of the Philippines from the H2B program, the scheduled termination of the CNMI investor visa (E2C) this December, and the problems associated with the CW program including the millions being sent off-island instead of being spent locally, the programmed decline in numbers and the newly adopted policies and rules by the U.S, Department of Labor with regard to the CW program.
Those who cannot even begin their multi-million dollar projects, those whose projects cannot be completed because they cannot get workers, those who slave away each and every day, those who took huge financial risks to open a business, those who have to go above and beyond the daily headaches and deal with those seemingly insurmountable red tape forced upon us by the United States, survival becomes a passionate challenge that they sometimes lose along with confidence in our government, our economy and the CNMI as a whole. In the end, many businesses leave with many more have very little options.
Which brings up a question, is there something we can do?
Sure, here and now, fiscal responsibility and accountability are key to continued government operations. There is a need to downsize the government to something that is affordable and efficient. The pay raises just because there are programmed extras in the budget need to be reined in. Better to have control and continuity than letting the fat checks loose while the public suffers.
There are complaints about the number of agencies in the government, the number of lawyers in these agencies in spite of the presence and mission of the AG’s Office, our government’s inability to solve those problems which have plagued the community for way too long (highways which are atrocious, lack of sidewalks for residents and tourists alike, poorly marked pedestrian crosswalks and curbs, etc.), dilapidated and yet to be rebuilt school structures and complexes, the multitude of boards and board members, even the obvious disparity in the numbers and representation in the Legislature (key factor being population sizes in the 3 islands), all these are costs which need to be brought under control.
Now, for those factors which can and do limit and to a degree choke our economy, how about action through the U.S. Congress for the return of our immigration control, the removal of the restrictions by the USDOL and if those fail, the invocation of 902 talks as prescribed by the Covenant. We need workers, we need investors, we need tourists. We need autonomy from the federal government. The Chinese government has already warned its people to not travel to the U.S. Imagine losing the China market. Who will replace that? Japan? Korea? Vietnam? Cambodia, the Philippines? Get real.
We cannot fail our economy. Should that happen, we fail at our democracy. And for generations to come. A worst-case scenario, our economy will tank, people will lose their jobs, cost of living will skyrocket, repossessions and foreclosures will happen for so many and crimes will go up.
Bottom line, we need for our government to act on behalf of the public it represents. Like it or not, we need favorable economic conditions in order to ensure growth and sustainability not only now but for generations to come.
Well, there you have it. And no matter your views, no matter your hopes, it boils down to this: Action not baseless rhetoric. \ Failure is not an option.
Noel S. Reyes