Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and members of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers called on the Legislature on Capital Hill yesterday to present the GCEA’s 2020 Annual Report and recommendations and thank CNMI stakeholders for the widespread support of the council’s economic initiatives and revitalization projects.
This adds to the community outreaches that Torres, co-chair of the GCEA with businessman and community leader Jerry Tan, and council members have done in the past few weeks to present on what the council has achieved thus far. In addition to the Legislature, the council has also met with members of the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.
The GCEA report analyzes the current economic situation of the CNMI in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu and the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. The council also took steps to identify 13 key economic development initiatives—all taken from the input of community stakeholders—aimed at fast-tracking the CNMI’s recovery. The plan aims to transform the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian into world-class destinations while providing a better quality of life for all who call the Marianas home.
“The support that the GCEA has been receiving since its inception in May is overwhelming. I thank our islands’ stakeholders: our Senate and House of Representatives, MVA, and the Chamber of Commerce for getting behind this vision for the Commonwealth,” said Torres. “It is encouraging to see the unity that this plan has ignited, and I am very pleased to see the CNMI moving forward with our council’s recommendations.”
Torres created the GCEA through Executive Order 2020-11 to help in the formulation of policy initiatives that would encourage economic growth in the CNMI. The GCEA is made up of experts from the public and private sectors who have answered the call to envision and build a better CNMI for its residents. The organization’s mission is to improve the overall quality of life in the Commonwealth through various initiatives designed to improve the CNMI product, rebuild the economy and spur future development in the islands.
Out of the 13 initiatives, five were identified as priorities for 2021 through 2022. Torres set the Private Public Partnership campaign as an example of how an initiative can successfully move forward with the community rallying behind it. The PPP welcomes organizations and groups to adopt sites on Saipan, Rota, and Tinian and physically transform them through improvements in infrastructure, design, and maintenance. The PPP started with just six partners and now has 41 groups, representing diverse backgrounds and interests. Thirty local sites, many of which are the CNMI’s top tourism sites, have already been adopted. Facilities, such as basketball courts and social halls, have also been spruced up to better serve residents at the village level.
“It’s very inspiring to see our community coming together despite the pandemic and typhoons we have faced over the last two years. Our local government, businesses, community organizations, and residents have committed to transforming our islands, protecting our pristine environment, and providing our youth with safe sports and recreational facilities that will make life better for all of us,” Torres said.
One of GCEA’s recommendations includes the streamlining of the government’s permitting processes, which the council noted, currently takes at least three years to complete before large-scale projects can begin. In response, the CNMI Zoning Board, the first in the long line of agencies involved in the permitting process, has agreed to waive the permitting requirement for Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded, typhoon-related projects. This will shave off an estimated three months of processing time.
Another time-saving initiative is to digitize the permitting processes. The Commonwealth Development Authority has approved $100,000 to help fund a system to secure permits.
Sen. Vinnie Sablan (Ind.-Saipan) is working on legislation to support this measure. Sablan proposes to allow permitting agency officials to hold video conferences to avoid delays in decision-making due to the lack of a quorum.
At the House, Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) has pre-filed House Bill 22-21 that would restructure the Commonwealth Development Authority and rename it the Commonwealth Economic Development Authority. This proposed agency would be tasked with leading the CNMI’s economic diversification campaign.
Though the CNMI aims to develop other industries that would generate jobs and tax revenues for the Commonwealth, Torres said that tourism remains the backbone of the islands’ economies. The CNMI has historical and significant economic and tourism relations with Japan, and GCEA believes this is the right time to re-engage the Japan market as the islands prepare to safely open their borders. The MVA has recently reopened its representative office in Japan in preparation for the resumption of travel tentatively slated for this summer
“There are a lot of moving parts as our islands work toward recovery and implementing these important initiatives. I thank our residents for working together to build a better future for our people,” Torres said. (PR)