Fitial admin touts fairness in across-the-board austerity

The Fitial administration is not about to expand its list of agencies exempt from austerity measures, almost two months since Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s Oct. 13 memo that covered federally funded agencies and other previously exempt agencies in the 32-hour workweek.

Fitial is only allowing certain personnel from three government agencies to be exempt: the departments of Public Safety and Corrections and the Emergency Management Office.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said Wednesday that while it is true that certain salaries are fully federally funded, the governor “is more concerned about the issue of fairness and employee morale.”

“Thus, Governor Fitial chose to implement the austerity work hour reduction across the board, with the exception of critical emergency response personnel like police officers, fire fighters, corrections officers, and others,” Demapan said.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan has repeatedly called on the governor to exempt federally funded employees in the Nutrition Assistance Program, which handles food stamp services.

Customs director Jesus Muna has also asked for exemption for customs inspectors, owing to the nature of their job at airports and seaports.

But the Fitial administration said in addition to fairness among government employees, “it is also important to note that the governor is the chief executive of the Commonwealth.”

“Therefore, he holds the authority to regulate government work hours for CNMI government offices. Federal grantors have been made aware of the financial constraints of the government and the austerity work schedule for government employees. At the end of the day, it’s about equitability for both local and federally funded CNMI government employees,” Demapan said.

Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), a former Ways and Means Committee chair, pointed out that the governor may be the final authority on all federally funded programs in the CNMI, including refusing to sign off on grant proposals or closing federal-funded agencies, but the CNMI runs the risk of losing badly needed funding.

“What will jeopardize the federal funds? For example, if we’re given a grant of $100,000 and we spent only $80,000, the $20,000 will have to go back to the federal grantor. The following year, when we again ask for a $100,000 grant, they would say we didn’t even use the full amount, why are we asking for that amount again? It would be interesting what the federal government would say about this,” he said.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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